November 30, 2022

AAUP Update: Chapter Communications with Dr. Williams

Colleagues:

As previously communicated to all of you, on April 18 representatives of the three employee unions at Montgomery College wrote to Dr. Jermaine Williams about our concerns with the administration’s decision not to drop students who are unvaccinated from classes.  Allowing these students to attend classes weakens the safety net that we all agreed to create when we voted in favor of a COVID-19 mandate for all employees and students. A copy of that communication is posted on the Chapter’s webpage, mcaaup.org.

Dr. Williams responded to our concerns and explained the administration’s rationale for its decision.  We replied with a request that faculty and other employees who need flexibility to teach or work remotely be given that opportunity. We also requested that the administration rethink the unrealistic goal of 10% for remote classes for the Fall 2022 semester. 

Below is our reply to Dr. Williams. We sent this reply on Wednesday May 3. Directly below that is Dr. William’s original response to our April 18 memo.  Please take a moment from your busy schedules to read both.  

You can post any comments you may have about this on the Chapter webpage or you can send them directly to me.  In addition, we can discuss this at our virtual meeting during Professional Week on Wednesday, May 18, from 11:15 am to 12:15 pm.  Here is the Zoom link to our end-of-year meeting:  https://montgomerycollege.zoom.us/j/91786425815.

Thanks for your support. 

Harry Z. 


May 3, 2022

Dr. Williams:

We appreciate your thoughtful response to our concerns about the change in the vaccine mandate for students. The improvement in health conditions in Montgomery County and other areas around the country is encouraging.  We hope that Dr. Anthony Fauci is correct in his estimation that the U.S. is now in a “transitional phase” that may ultimately lead to a future in which COVID-19 is as controllable as the seasonal flu. 

But, as Dr. Fauci noted, the pandemic is still with us.  Vaccines have gotten us this far, and vaccines continue to be the most critical tool we have to fight this deadly disease. We have seen COVID-19 spawn many variants, each more contagious than the previous one. Although the rate of deaths has declined, new cases and hospitalizations have recently increased. The fact that the overall COVID death toll in our country will soon reach 1 million is a sober reminder to remain vigilant.  

Montgomery College currently employs many faculty and staff members who are at higher risk of COVID because of age, medical condition, or the condition of family members. As the union representatives of these employees, we should have been brought into the discussion before the decision to rescind the student mandate was made.  We have heard from many of our constituents who oppose the college’s decision. Here are excerpts from two letters we recently received:

“I will be returning to f2f classes this summer.  I have been teaching online and am freshly recovered (I hope) from cancer surgery this past Jan 24th.  I am not thrilled to be immune-compromised with unvaccinated students roaming the halls.” 

I “will not be returning to MC if this policy will be adopted as I have several health issues which take precedence. Just as other immunizations are required, COVID should be necessary to protect the health of all in the community. I also have disabled family members that I must protect.”

As leaders of the unions that represent almost all of the employees at Montgomery College, we respectfully disagree with the college’s decision not to drop students from classes for failure to get vaccinated.  Now is not the time to go backwards.  Even if students continue to be advised that vaccination is expected, the knowledge that they will not be dropped from classes if they do not follow through is a disincentive to comply. 

This decision is likely to undermine the safety net that all of us agreed to create when we overwhelmingly voted to support the mandate.

Therefore, we request that the administration make the following adjustments:

  • Employees at high risk should be given permission to teach remotely or do telework if they so desire.  The current policy allows for up to 3 days per week of telework, but in many offices, specifically Student Affairs, employees have been instructed that the limit is one day per week.  Considering the change in the student vaccination mandate policy, this is unacceptable.
  • The college should rethink its target of 10% for structured remote and online classes for the Fall 2022 semester.

The 10% limit will make it difficult for employees to get the flexibility they need to stay safe and do their work effectively. If this limit is imposed, there will be insufficient remote classes for all the faculty who will request them due to their medical and/or personal circumstances. A target of 35% for remote classes would be more realistic.

Thank you for considering our views and suggestions.  We look forward to your response.

Sincerely, 

Harry Zarin, President AAUP

Lori Ulrich, President AFSCME

Victoria Baldassano, Director SEIU

——————————————————————————————————————–

From: Jermaine F. Williams, President, Montgomery College <President@montgomerycollege.edu>

Sent: Friday, April 22, 2022 2:31 PM
To: Baldassano, Victoria A <victoria.baldassano@montgomerycollege.edu>; Ulrich, Lori A <Lori.Ulrich@montgomerycollege.edu>; Zarin, Harry <harry.zarin@montgomerycollege.edu>
Subject: Your recent message

Dear Victoria, Lori, and Harry:

Thank you for your April 19, 2022, email message communicating your concerns about the College’s decision to adjust the vaccine requirement for students. As I noted when we last met, I am pleased that the unions are engaged in these critical topics, and appreciate hearing your views, individually and collectively. Our conversations with the three of you prior to adjusting the masking requirement highlighted several coronavirus concerns among employees that were also considered in our decision to adjust the vaccine requirement for students. The two mitigation strategies both share some important impacts on classroom and workplace health, enrollment, and student success.

I want to assure you that the health and safety of the College community continue to be paramount, as they have been from the start of the pandemic. The College has demonstrated this commitment in multiple ways. We established one of the most rigorous requirements for student vaccination among community colleges in Maryland. Only one other community college required student vaccinations, and we were the only two colleges that removed students from face-to-face classes for failure to be vaccinated during the spring semester. As you may know, more than 700 MC students were deleted from classes for failing to comply with the student vaccine requirements.

The College’s recent decision to remove the penalty for non-vaccinated students in the summer sessions and fall semester was the result of careful consideration by my senior leadership team. At the same time, we are redoubling efforts to continue to educate and encourage all in our College community to be vaccinated, get boosters when eligible, practice good hygiene, and wear masks in certain venues. By informing students that they are expected to be vaccinated and directing them to our system to upload their vaccine cards, we contribute to the robust vaccination culture established over the past two semesters. These efforts build on the reported student vaccination rate of more than 90 percent accomplished thus far.

Our commitment to ensure equitable access and opportunity, as well as fuel the economy and drive economic mobility, rests on enhancing access for the diverse populations we serve and seek to serve. We believe the College can increase access in ways that continue to follow evolving health guidance, are safe and healthy, and meet the needs of our students and employees. As you know, masks continue to be required in classrooms and learning spaces.  Employees are also empowered to request masks be worn in their personal office spaces.

The process by which the student vaccination decision was made included consideration of the following.

• Health conditions are now very different than when the vaccination requirement was announced in September 2021: there is a high vaccination rate, medications are available for infected individuals, and state and county COVID conditions have vastly improved.

• The Montgomery County vaccination rate is very high: 95 percent of residents have at least one dose, 87 percent are fully vaccinated, and 54 percent are boosted—our students’ vaccination rates are comparable.

•  The transmission rate in Montgomery County remains consistently low.

•  The hospitalization and ICU bed utilization rates for COVID cases in Montgomery County are very low (and these are the key indicators informing updated CDC guidance).

•  Masks are required in classrooms, but even if the requirement is dropped in the future, a mask can be worn by anyone, anywhere, anytime.

We have also benchmarked what other higher education institutions are doing for comparison. And, most importantly, if conditions should change significantly, we are prepared to pivot as needed.

As health and safety conditions continue to change, we must appropriately respond. We look forward to engaging union leadership in this conversation.

As you know, the College has a full-time public health director whose expertise includes interpreting data on local conditions to inform real-time decision-making and advise senior leaders about evolving conditions. I have found her to be very adept with these issues, and well-equipped to guide us through directions from national, state, and local health authorities on topics such as masking.

We are dedicated to communication and transparency. Respective members of the senior team remain committed to meeting with each union to discuss matters of interest related to the collective bargaining agreements. Furthermore, I look forward to our meeting later this semester when we can continue our conversation about relationship building and a positive path forward that advances the mission of the College.

I very much appreciate your concern for the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students. My senior leadership team and I hold this as our highest priority and welcome your collaboration on meeting our shared goals—empowering students to change their lives and enriching the life of the community.

Regards,

jfw

Jermaine F. Williams
President
Office of the President
Montgomery College
9221 Corporate Boulevard
Rockville, MD 20850
240-567-5264
Jermaine.willams@montgomerycollege.edu  

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