The University Committee discussed sending a letter to University of Wisconsin faculty following continuing concerns about COVID-19 accommodations and mitigation efforts in a meeting Wednesday.

University Committee Chair Eric Sandgren said the committee could be sending a statement regarding several COVID-related topics to UW faculty members as soon as next Monday.

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“It has become apparent to us as a UC that there’s a lot of confusion and concern about the role of shared governance in making decisions about [UW’s] COVID response,” Sandgren said. “We thought it would be appropriate to develop a statement that could be sent to faculty describing where we’re at.”

The committee appeared united in reaching out to faculty. Members Kristyn Masters and Erica Halverson voiced specific concerns about the message’s lack of clarity regarding policy making while over 40,000 students returned to campus this fall after mostly online classes the past academic year.

Halverson said her colleagues don’t feel the committee had participated enough in conversations about campus COVID-19 policies over the summer, despite some of their work behind the scenes on key decisions.

“I think the work is invisible and I think [faculty] will feel better knowing that [we] were representing collective interest,” Halverson said. “I don’t think most faculty have any idea that [the University Committee] spent time and effort and communications on helping to promote [a reinstated mask mandate].”

Committee members collectively agreed there needed to be a bigger focus on themes of community in the statement — especially with pressure to return to classes in person.

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This comes after some UW instructors expressed disappointment regarding how UW is handling the return to in-person classes.

“I had a conversation with someone who supervises me, who advised me I ought to remind [staff] that they are on contract as a mechanism to encourage face-to-face meeting attendance,” Halverson said. “But if community building is the goal, starting the conversation with ‘I want to remind you all that you are on contract,’ is not a particularly productive mechanism for engagement.”

At the previous University Committee meeting on Aug. 3o, Provost John Karl Scholz said 31 instructors requested to teach online and about half were denied.

But this data might not reflect all instructors who pulled out of the process before officially submitting their requests. As first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, one teaching assistant stopped the requesting process after her disability representative told her all requests were being denied.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank denied claims faculty who backed out had “discouraging” conversations with their disability representatives at the past University Committee meeting.

Blank also said the university will examine and determine the cause of reported delays in the accommodation process with a later analysis. 

“I have established no blanket policy here. You know, it’s not clear to me where that statement comes from that we’ve all read in the [Wisconsin State Journal,]” Blank said at the meeting.