Faculty Raise COVID Concerns to Administration

Admin Response Dismisses Most Proposals

On Aug. 24, 2021, members of Reed’s faculty wrote a letter to the administration proposing what they believe are reasonable changes to Reed’s COVID-19 policy. This letter and a response from administration was recently leaked to the Quest by an anonymous source. Among their requests, faculty members ask for access to ongoing testing, information regarding air filtration, protection for immunocompromised individuals and their co-residents, online options for attendance of faculty meetings, and more input from and representation on Reed’s COVID-19 Risk Assessment Group (CRAG) for students, staff, and faculty. The response letter signed by President Audrey Bilger and CRAG largely dismisses faculty requests for changes to policy, citing data on the effectiveness of vaccines and the college’s low case rate.

Students’ rights to confidentiality regarding vaccination status cannot come at the cost of the health and safety of faculty and their families—particularly when individual vaccination is insufficient protection for some and entirely unavailable for others.

— Letter from Faculty

The first request in the faculty letter is for “modification of interactional modalities” and proposes that “The college should develop a clear and transparent mechanism (i.e., not case-by-case decisions behind closed doors) whereby faculty and staff may modify the circumstances of their teaching, advising, and other responsibilities.” These modifications by faculty and staff could mean anything from arranging outdoor teaching and meeting venues to temporary online instruction or having classes with online lectures but in person conferences. 

The administration’s response cited “the critical importance of Reed’s in-person educational work” as a reason why they intend to maintain a case-by-case basis for exceptions to in-person operations where appeals must be made by faculty or staff directly to CRAG. The administration letter says that “An aim of this approach is to retain confidentiality when necessary as well as to allow for customized adjustments.”

The faculty letter also proposed that “The college should, in keeping with current CDC guidelines, create policies that incorporate mandatory social distancing (i.e., 6 feet) for immunocompromised individuals and members of the college community who share a household with such individuals.” The letter underscores the disproportionate risk that current college operations poses for “immunocompromised students, faculty and staff, and those students, faculty and staff whose households include an immunocompromised member,” and proposes “that community members who need this form of distancing have access to classrooms and meeting places that allow for it until community transmission in Multnomah County is low.” 

The letter also stated that “At present, students who are immunocompromised are being directed to follow the DAR policy, which was not designed to deal with CDC recommendations and instead appears to revert to pre-pandemic understandings of access as the primary problem facing students living with health conditions.” The letter stressed that access to spaces is not helpful to immunocompromised community members if those spaces do not have social distancing measures in place. “Placement in crowded classroom settings can itself endanger such students, as crowded classrooms are known to facilitate outbreaks, leading to illness, and among immunocompromised populations, further disability and even death.”

The administration’s response acknowledged that community members face varying levels of risk, and that being immunocompromised or living with immunocompromised people may create “further stress and difficulty in planning for some community members.” They state that the college has developed a process whereby Reed employees can request accommodations that can be individually and appropriately addressed. They cite that some employees work remotely as a success of this process. The administration’s response also stated that “The Office of Student Life confirmed the Disabilities and Accessibility Resources (DAR) office is well-positioned to engage in interactive, case-by-case, individualized processes to determine an accommodation for students and recommend actions in response.”

In response to requests for mandatory physical distancing for immunocompromised individuals, administration said that they “endorse open discourse about personal space” and harkened back to last year’s “be kind and remind” campaign, hoping that community members will respect individual requests for extra space. Subsequently they stated that “While it would be safer to mandate physical distancing, we (like many others) are balancing the benefits of this measure with our ability to conduct operations effectively.” The letter claimed that Reed and most organizations “are not set up to conduct core operations with comprehensive physical distancing.” They finished their response to physical distancing requests by citing data on the effectiveness of vaccines and masks, stating that their current prevention measures “are sufficient to minimize (though not eliminate) the risk of harm to the general community while also acknowledging that there may be some specific exceptions.”

Beginning the week of September 20, 2021, our testing program will be open to any asymptomatic, unexposed community member who wishes to complete a test, regardless of vaccination status.

— Letter from Administration

The faculty letter also requested that faculty be made aware of how many students in each of their classes were not fully vaccinated. The letter stressed that the currently accessible information regarding campus vaccination was not sufficient for faculty members to make informed decisions about the safety of themselves and their families. They stated that “Students’ rights to confidentiality regarding vaccination status cannot come at the cost of the health and safety of faculty and their families—particularly when individual vaccination is insufficient protection for some and entirely unavailable for others.” The faculty letter asked that, in the absence of this information, the college alter their current activities to be “in line with relevant [Center for Disease Control] recommendations regarding interactions where the vaccinated status of other participants is unknown until community transmission in Multnomah County is low.”

In their response, the administration mentioned the college’s high vaccination rates, over 98%, to begin their concerns regarding student vaccination status. They went on to say that “Of the 26 students who are not fully vaccinated, as of this week, 13 have submitted a valid medical or non-medical exemption to vaccination, as permitted by Oregon state law.” The letter explained that the exempt students are considered “in compliance” with Reed’s vaccination policy as long as they participate in weekly COVID-19 surveillance testing. The 13 students who are not fully vaccinated and have not submitted a valid exemption to vaccination are working towards full vaccination according to the letter. 

“All of these students are either partially vaccinated and awaiting eligibility for their second dose, or are engaged and working towards completion but, for reasons outside of their control, have not yet been able to meet the requirement.” While administration says that “the college is not in a position to share how many and which students in each class are not fully vaccinated [but are still complying with Reed vaccination policies],” they also state that “going forward, [they] will continue to share names of all non-compliant students with their faculty advisors and instructors.” This only applies to students who are not fully vaccinated and have not filed a valid exemption. The letter also states that CRAG will begin indicating which non-compliant students are engaged with actively meeting the requirement, and which are not.” They also “recommend that faculty advisors and instructors encourage these non-compliant, non-engaged students to contact the [Health and Counseling Center] as soon as possible to work on coming into compliance and that they exclude these individuals from in-person classes, meetings, and activities until they are engaged or compliant.”

The faculty letter requested that the college “make voluntary testing for vaccinated individuals available no less frequently than weekly until community transmission in Multnomah County is low.” and that the college “consider making rapid home-based testing part of the college’s approach to mitigating transmission risks.” The letter states that “access to routine testing is critical to keeping ourselves and our families and households safe.”

The administration’s response on the topic began by reminding faculty that surveillance testing had been recently modified to include 330 random, fully vaccinated community members in its weekly testing. The letter stated that public health agencies recommend against testing for vaccinated individuals who are unlikely to be infected, adding that they “recognize that a voluntary testing program may bring peace of mind to individuals who feel they or their families are at elevated risk.” The letter then announced that “beginning the week of September 20, 2021, our testing program will be open to any asymptomatic, unexposed community member who wishes to complete a test, regardless of vaccination status.” They then stressed that surveillance testing is not to be used by individuals who are showing symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19.

Faculty also requested more access to information regarding air filtration on campus. The administration’s letter appologized for failing to provide an update and linked to a document available on Reed Facilities’ website with information regarding air filtration on campus.

The faculty letter proposed that CRAG publish the weekly positivity rate of vaccinated individuals and that “should this rate be unacceptably high and/or reflect an upward trend, the college should increase campus-wide preventative measures.” CRAG’s response letter mentioned their COVID dashboard which reports positive cases by date identified and announced plans “to add surveillance testing data (including number of tests and test positivity) to the dashboard in the near future.”

In their letter, faculty members also requested that “faculty meetings and meetings open to faculty attendance such as CAPP meetings should retain an online option for attendance and participation until community transmission in Multnomah County is low.” The administration responded by saying that faculty members should contact the organizers of those specific meetings to request that an online option for attendance be made available.

Finally, the faculty letter proposed that “CRAG should systematically and transparently solicit input from high-risk populations (including students, staff, and faculty) as an integral aspect of formulating policies and recommendations…” They added that COVID-19 poses a disability rights issue, and that the college needs the experiences of its most vulnerable community members to be reflected in its policies. The faculty letter concluded, “Addressing our concerns and giving us a greater voice would help rebuild trust between the administration and the Reed community.”

The administration responded by stating that “CRAG aims to have a composition small enough to allow for effective decision-making while maintaining broad representation and expertise” and encouraged community members to provide input and ask questions by emailing CRAG. Their letter concluded by thanking faculty “for the care [they] put into the proposal” and expressing hope “[administration’s] response helps restore trust in [their] efforts.”

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Stories


We would love your thoughts, please comment!x
%d bloggers like this: