August 15, 2022

AAUP Update: Union Dissent on Face-to-Face Instruction

From: Baldassano, Victoria A
Sent: Friday, January 21, 2022 10:21 AM
To: Full-Time Faculty <Full-TimeFaculty@montgomerycollege.edu>; Part-Time Faculty TP/SS <Part-timeFacultyTP_SS@montgomerycollege.edu>; Part-Time Faculty GT <Part-timeFacultyGT@montgomerycollege.edu>; Part-Time Faculty RV <Part-TimeFacultyRV@montgomerycollege.edu>; Takoma Park Staff <TPStaff@montgomerycollege.edu>; Rockville Staff <RVStaff@montgomerycollege.edu>; Germantown Staff <GTStaff@montgomerycollege.edu>
Cc: Collette, Sherwin A <Sherwin.Collette@montgomerycollege.edu>; Brown, Monica R <monica.brown@montgomerycollege.edu>; Rai, Sanjay K <sanjay.rai@montgomerycollege.edu>; Anne McLeer <mcleera@seiu500.org>; Tropin, Mitchell J <mitchell.tropin@montgomerycollege.edu>; Edwards, Cynthia A <cynthia.edwards@montgomerycollege.edu>; Wilson, Priscilla M <priscilla.wilson@montgomerycollege.edu>; Sawyerr, Elizabeth M <elizabeth.sawyerr@montgomerycollege.edu>; Benton, Elizabeth M <elizabeth.benton@montgomerycollege.edu>; Weston, Charmaine L <charmaine.weston@montgomerycollege.edu>
Subject: Union Dissent on Face-to-Face Instruction
Importance: High

Dear MC Colleagues,

Over the past two weeks, representatives of your Full-Time Faculty Union (AAUP), your Part-Time Faculty Union (SEIU Local 500), and your Staff Union (AFSCME), have been talking with members of the administration regarding our concerns about a return to face-to-face instruction this semester. We presented our issues via email and in two Zoom meetings with three representatives of the administration: Sherwin Collette, Senior Vice President for Administrative and Fiscal Services, Monica Brown, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs, and Sanjay Rai, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs.  

To protect MC students and employees from the very contagious Omicron variant, we requested that the college convert most of its face-to-face courses to structured remote for a limited period at the beginning of the spring semester, perhaps 1 to 4 weeks, before gradually easing back into face-to-face instruction. Local universities and several major school systems around the country are trying this approach, including MCPS. We conferred with our union Executive Committees, and we polled our members during union meetings held Jan. 18. Although a vocal minority disagreed with our approach, an overwhelming number of members of all three unions supported our proposal

Unfortunately, the administration rejected our request.  We have read the directive from Interim President Charlene Dukes. We understand the administration’s rationale and will comply with the decision. However, we respectfully disagree.  

While we can all celebrate the recent decline in cases in Northeast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., it would be a mistake to think that Omicron is about to disappear. This dip in case numbers is happening even as Omicron continues to produce “more than 800,000 new infections” each day, the New York Times Coronavirus database reported. “About 150,000 coronavirus patients are hospitalized nationwide, more than at any previous point in the pandemic” while…“1,900 deaths are being announced each day, a 50 percent increase over the last two weeks.” 

We would also caution our colleagues not to embrace the notion that Omicron is a “mild” form of COVID.  As Katherine J. Wu noted in the Atlantic, “That the variant is less of a danger too often gets misconstrued as the variant is not a danger at all.” A healthy, vaccinated and boosted MC instructor who recently contracted the virus remarked that it seemed like having a mild form of the flu. He was looking forward to getting back in the classroom. But Montgomery College has a very diverse workforce, and Omicron has created an unfortunate dichotomy between younger and older employees, and between those who are relatively healthy and those who have (or whose family members have) medical conditions that could make exposure to Omicron dangerous or fatal.  

At the very least, we think the administration should show more flexibility toward employees who cannot or should not be teaching or providing services face-to-face this semester.  Instead, in its enthusiasm to return to in-person teaching, the college has denied requests from several employees to teach remotely – particularly part-time faculty members.  These include a 78-year-old instructor with a medical condition who has been teaching remotely for several semesters and an award-winning art instructor who has a child with multiple disabilities and a seizure disorder. To protect her child from Omicron, this instructor requested a medical accommodation to teach remotely, which was denied because the accommodation applies to employees only. Montgomery College has done an admirable job in promoting social and racial justice, but a policy such as this ends up discriminating against caretakers (mostly women) of family members with disabilities. Names of these employees have been provided to the administration. 

We are pleased about the vaccine mandate for students, but booster shots are the most effective defense against Omicron, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recently vaccinated students will have to wait “at least 5 months after completing [their] primary COVID-19 vaccination series” to get a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna booster shot.   

We are also pleased that the college will have KN95 masks, but we request that there be sufficient masks available for ALL students and employees who want them. 

Finally, we wish the best of luck to those who will be teaching or offering in-person counseling or other services to students or MC employees this semester.  If you have any issues or concerns that cannot be answered by your chair, dean, or supervisor, please do not hesitate to reach out to the representatives of your unions.  We will do our best to get back to you as soon as possible. 

In solidarity,  

Harry Zarin, President AAUP (MC Full-Time Faculty Union) 

Victoria Baldassano, Director, MC Part-Time Faculty Union (SEIU Local 500) 

Lori Ulrich, President AFSCME (MC Staff Union) 

Chris Standing, Immediate Past President AFSCME 

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