X

State’s top professors: Public campuses need freedom to chart own course through pandemic

State’s top academics say: ‘The COVID-19 risks vary in different parts of the state, and they change over time. Athens is not Atlanta, and Savannah is not Valdosta. What makes sense for the University of Georgia might not work for Georgia State, or Albany State, or Georgia Southern.’
State’s top academics say: ‘The COVID-19 risks vary in different parts of the state, and they change over time. Athens is not Atlanta, and Savannah is not Valdosta. What makes sense for the University of Georgia might not work for Georgia State, or Albany State, or Georgia Southern.’

Regents’ professors warn schools endangered by top-down policies that don’t account for local realities

This statement was signed by 58 Regents’ professors from Georgia’s research universities:

We are 58 Regents' Professors at University System of Georgia research institutions, including the University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Augusta University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The title of Regents' Professor is the highest academic rank in our public college and university system, awarded to a few faculty members each year by the Board of Regents based on lifetime achievements and contributions in research and teaching. With this title comes both recognition from and responsibility to the USG and the citizens of Georgia.

Today, these institutions are placed at risk by top-down policies from the state-wide university system that do not account for local realities. The latest, most nationally visible examples, which pose the greatest risk to public health and the future of the System, are the USG’s policies around safe return to campus this fall, amid a global pandemic.

In its initial plans, the System mandated in-person, on-campus courses at every USG institution, without a mask requirement, without a testing plan, and without contact tracing. This approach does not account for the growing body of scientific evidence that such actions cannot keep students, staff, and faculty safe.

Since then, under pressure from campus communities and press coverage, the USG has reversed its policy on masks. Although we support that change, to take relief in it misses a larger point: The USG never should have prohibited campuses from requiring masks in the first place.

Other issues, such as testing and contact tracing, still need to be addressed. The System should provide resources and expertise (including from faculty who are public health experts) to help each institution make the best plans for its unique circumstances, grounded in science.

The COVID-19 risks vary in different parts of the state, and they change over time. Athens is not Atlanta, and Savannah is not Valdosta. What makes sense for the University of Georgia might not work for Georgia State, or Albany State, or Georgia Southern.

As the pandemic wears on, new problems will arise. As we write this, an unprecedented challenge to international student visas has been announced, one that impacts some USG institutions more than others. As another example, uncertainties about HVAC ventilation and airflow relevant to aerosolized SARS-CoV-2 transmission may necessitate specific changes to particular buildings. Should campuses need to reduce on campus interactions or shut down again this fall due to additional outbreaks, each institution will face new and distinct challenges in doing so.

Many factors impact whether and how classes ought to move online, including the resources and time afforded to instructors for planning; the health of students, faculty, staff, and their families; and the safety of on-campus work and study spaces.

We understand that Georgia’s public colleges and universities are a part of a system. However, membership in such a system must be collaborative. Decisions made from the top down by the USG cannot safeguard each unique institution and the diverse challenges it faces.

The Chancellor and the Board of Regents must grant the leaders of USG colleges and universities the autonomy to lead their institutions nimbly, in ways that make sense locally and take advantage of institutional expertise, as much as possible. Furthermore, the faculty, staff, and students who are in the classrooms day in and day out must be given seats at the table where decisions are made that affect their lives and futures.

We must ensure the safety of the hundreds of thousands of Georgia’s citizens who interact with its colleges and universities. Greater independence will allow Georgia’s higher education system to serve the state’s students more equitably, and to benefit its citizens more effectively.

The 58 Regents’ professors who signed the letter are:

Gregory Abowd, Krish K. Ahuja, H. Elliott Albers, Levon Ambartsumian, Mostafa Ammar, Ronald Arkin, Richard Baskerville, Mark Borodovsky, Margo A. Brinton, Gene H. Brody, Leonid Bunimovich, John Burrison, Michael A. Duncan, William A. Edmundson, Thomas K. Gaylord, Seymour Goodman, Ruth Harris, Mark Hay, Xiaochun He, Walt de Heer, Michael K. Johnson, Samantha Joye, Mark Keil, Paul A. Kohl, David N. Ku, Meilin Liu, Paul A. Lombardo, Pam Longobardi, Randy Malamud, Steven T. Manson, Jorge Martinez, Joel Meyers, Mary Ann Moran, Elizabeth Mynatt, Haesun Park, Andrew Paterson, A. G. Unil Perera, Mark Prausnitz, Arun Rai, Pejman Rohani, Richard Rothenberg, Matthew Roudané, Lakshmi N. Sankar, Ronald Simons, Jeffrey Skolnick, John Stasko, Michael R. Strand, Rick L. Tarleton, Prasad Tetali, Geert J. de Vries, Richard T. Watson, Irene T. Weber, W. David Wilson, C. P. Wong, Richard Wright, Vigor Yang, Lisa Yaszek, Ellen Zegura

About the Author

ajc.com