AJC On Campus: Tenure tussle; professors vow to require masks in classes

ATHENS, Sept. 14, 2021 - University of Georgia professor Joseph Fu speaks at a rally on campus on Sept. 14, 2021 demanding mask mandates and other measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the university. Fu requires students to wear masks in his classes, which violates University System of Georgia policy. ERIC STIRGUS/ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.COM.

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ATHENS, Sept. 14, 2021 - University of Georgia professor Joseph Fu speaks at a rally on campus on Sept. 14, 2021 demanding mask mandates and other measures to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at the university. Fu requires students to wear masks in his classes, which violates University System of Georgia policy. ERIC STIRGUS/ERIC.STIRGUS@AJC.COM.

There are certainties in life, such as death, taxes and college professors at odds with their administrators.

The friction has become more pronounced since the coronavirus pandemic at public and private colleges and universities in Georgia.

We take a look at some faculty-administrator disputes concerning pandemic protections and a brewing battle over tenure in this edition of AJC On Campus.

The mask battle continues

More than 50 University of Georgia professors — worried about the spread of COVID-19 in the area — announced plans a few days ago to soon require their students to wear masks in their classes, setting up a potential showdown with university and state administrators since they’re not allowed to issue such a mandate.

Acting University System of Georgia Chancellor Teresa MacCartney wrote a letter Wednesday to one of the lead organizers of the plan, Jeff Bennetzen, noting new reported cases are declining rapidly at UGA and most schools. The letter doesn’t mention any warnings of disciplinary action.

“Georgia has no state mask mandate. As a system, we strongly encourage mask usage in campus facilities and urge those who want to wear masks to do so,” MacCartney wrote.

Meanwhile, American Association of University Professors chapters from nine states, including Georgia, last week began a lobbying campaign with federal lawmakers to include colleges and universities in President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate for all businesses with more than 100 workers or test for the virus weekly. The Georgia chapter says staff from a few congressmembers have agreed to hear them out.

In defense of Joe Fu

University of Georgia math professor Joseph Fu last week got a surprise show of support from some of his students in his dispute with administrators over his requirement that everyone wears a mask in his classes.

A group of unidentified students in one of his calculus classes wrote a guest column published Thursday in the university’s student-run newspaper, The Red & Black, lauding Fu’s actions.

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Longtime University of Georgia math professor Joseph Fu is requiring students to wear masks in his classes. The university recommends students wear masks in classes, particularly if they have not received one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Photo Credit: Marni Schindelman

Longtime University of Georgia math professor Joseph Fu is requiring students to wear masks in his classes. The university recommends students wear masks in classes, particularly if they have not received one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Photo Credit: Marni Schindelman

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Longtime University of Georgia math professor Joseph Fu is requiring students to wear masks in his classes. The university recommends students wear masks in classes, particularly if they have not received one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Photo Credit: Marni Schindelman

“Yes, everyone hates masks,” one paragraph of the letter read. “They’re uncomfortable, particularly in the Georgia heat. But it’s a simple matter of keeping one another safe. One infected and unmasked person puts us all at risk in the classroom. Dr. Fu has only ever expressed his intent to keep us safe, and for that he has our sincere respect. Because the Board of Regents, the USG and the leadership at UGA do not seem to have the health and safety of the students as a top priority, we support Dr. Fu’s actions, which have become necessary only after all levels of leadership have failed.”

USG tenure tussle

Faculty members at many University System of Georgia schools last week ramped up their concerns about some proposed changes that could make it easier to fire tenured professors.

System officials discussed proposed revisions to its post-tenure review process with the Georgia Board of Regents at a meeting earlier this month. The revisions give the board more authority to take over the review process from one of its universities, a top system official said in a presentation to a Regents committee.

Several states have attempted to curtail tenure in recent years, and the percentage of faculty members with tenure has declined in recent years to just one-third of them, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill associate professor wrote in The New York Times last week. About 27% of University System faculty members were classified last year as professors, slightly up from 24% in 2015, state data shows. Most are associate or assistant professors.

The American Association of University Professors looked at the revisions and highlighted several problems in a letter Friday.

Much of the dispute involves the addition of “student success” to the review process. The system’s chief academic officer, Tristan Denley, said they want to measure how faculty members interact with students outside the classroom through mentoring or advising, which has become a more important part of how the schools help students through their first year of college. Faculty members with two consecutive subpar annual reviews could lose their jobs if they don’t meet the corrective measures.

“They are weighty matters, but they are treated in a weighty way,” Denley said at the meeting.

The board could take a vote on the proposed changes at its October meeting.

COVID-19 cases dropping on USG campuses

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Kennesaw State University has signs posted on its campuses asking people to wear a face covering in its buildings. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

Kennesaw State University has signs posted on its campuses asking people to wear a face covering in its buildings. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

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Kennesaw State University has signs posted on its campuses asking people to wear a face covering in its buildings. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED.

New COVID-19 cases are declining at most of its largest colleges and universities, according to data posted on their websites.

The most significant decline has been at the University of Georgia, down 85% since the peak two weeks ago.

Here’s our recent look at the numbers.

Emory ranks high nationally in free speech survey

Back to students speaking out, there’s been a lot of conversation in recent years, particularly among Republican state lawmakers, that colleges and universities are stifling campus speech.

A study released last week shows one Georgia university is near the top of the class nationally in facilitating free expression on its campuses.

Emory University ranked fourth in a survey of students at 159 colleges. The survey was done by College Pulse, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and RealClearEducation.

Emory medical school gets $5 million to train doctors

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Emory University Hospital. (Jenni Girtman for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Emory University Hospital. (Jenni Girtman for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Emory University Hospital. (Jenni Girtman for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

There’s been a lot of talk in the last year, and we’ve written about it, concerning rising student loan debt in Georgia and across the nation. Some Emory University students got some help on that front.

The university announced Friday a $5 million gift to its medical school to help students graduate with less debt.

The gift is from Aflac chairman and CEO Daniel Amos, and his wife, Kathleen, an Emory University graduate who serves on the college’s board of trustees and is president of Aflac’s philanthropic foundation.

Recipients will commit to two to five years of primary care practice in Georgia commensurate with the level of assistance they have received.

Georgia lacks more than 2,000 primary care physicians to meet the national average for the state’s population, according to research by the medical school. The average federal and private student loan debt of Georgians is nearly $40,000, behind only Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

KSU benefactor reflects on its past, present and future needs

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Norman Radow speaks to Kennesaw State University students and others on Sept. 23, 2021 after a ceremony celebrating the naming of its College of Humanities and Social Sciences after him. PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Getz/Kennesaw State University.

Norman Radow speaks to Kennesaw State University students and others on Sept. 23, 2021 after a ceremony celebrating the naming of its College of Humanities and Social Sciences after him. PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Getz/Kennesaw State University.

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Norman Radow speaks to Kennesaw State University students and others on Sept. 23, 2021 after a ceremony celebrating the naming of its College of Humanities and Social Sciences after him. PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Getz/Kennesaw State University.

Prominent real estate executive Norman Radow gave something of a history lesson Thursday at Kennesaw State University.

Several hundred community leaders, administrators, faculty members and curious students watched as the university held a ceremony to celebrate the renaming of its largest college, Humanities and Social Sciences, after Radow for the millions of dollars he and his wife, Lindy, have donated to the school.

Radow and others recalled how small the university was (it now has more faculty than students when the school was founded in 1963) and the $600 million invested in real estate projects when he was KSU’s board of trustees chair.

“Yet, there’s so much more to do,” Radow told the crowd.

Radow said KSU, nearing 43,000 students — the second-largest enrollment in Georgia — needs more professors, office space and facilities in the college named after him.

The renaming is one of several honors for the Radows this year. KSU earlier this year launched the Radow Institute for Social Equity (RISE), designed to explore the impacts of social equity and disparity.

Atlanta University Center’s new data science partnership

Atlanta’s historically Black colleges and universities began an effort two years ago to ramp up its education and training in data science that received a $8 million investment from UnitedHealth.

The campaign got a big boost last week when the Coca-Cola Company and SAP announced a partnership with the Atlanta University Center to provide internships and a virtual computer lab.

The AUC Virtual Computer Lab will allow students access to software, technology and the learning tools they need to become leading data scientists from anywhere, and on any device, officials said.

“As data science continues to drive business growth, investing in the next generation of business leaders’ ability to access and apply data tools and real-world business experience through internships, benefits both Atlanta’s largest consortium of colleges and universities and the local talent pipeline of The Coca-Cola Company,” said Barry Simpson, Coca-Cola’s senior vice president and chief platform services officer.

Coming up:

October 1 is a big date for colleges and universities. It’s the first day for students and their families to begin filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which helps determine how much financial aid they may be able to receive for college. It’s also the date schools are scheduled to post annual reports on their websites detailing crime on their campuses.