ATHENS — More than 50 graduate students, faculty members and some family members held a silent demonstration Thursday at the University of Georgia to voice their concerns about plans by the school and the state’s university system to reopen their campuses for the fall semester amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstrators laid on the grass in the midday sun for an hour — with face coverings — in front of the university’s administration building as part of a “die-in”.

The group’s demands include more COVID-19 testing and allowing any faculty members to teach remotely if they desire. The schools have options to set up their own testing plans, or to conduct testing with the help of state public health officials or community partners. Faculty currently have to get approval from their school to teach remotely.

The demonstrators held signs such as “R.I.P. Campus Safety” and “I Can’t Teach When I’m Dead.” They gave an employee in the administration building a petition with 1,002 signatures outlining their demands at the end of their demonstration. The group cheered afterward.

United Campus Workers of Georgia host die-in demonstration on the University of Georgia's north campus lawn outside of the Administration Building on Aug. 6, 2020 to protest UGA and the University System of Georgia's decision to reopen their campuses despite the onoging pandemic. Shira Chess, an Entertainment and Media Studies professor at UGA, holds a sign in the shape of a headstone and calls for "more autonomy" to be given to faculty and students. KYLE PETERSON FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
United Campus Workers of Georgia host die-in demonstration on the University of Georgia's north campus lawn outside of the Administration Building on Aug. 6, 2020 to protest UGA and the University System of Georgia's decision to reopen their campuses despite the onoging pandemic. Shira Chess, an Entertainment and Media Studies professor at UGA, holds a sign in the shape of a headstone and calls for "more autonomy" to be given to faculty and students. KYLE PETERSON FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Credit: Kyle Peterson; photosbykylepeterson@gmail.com

Credit: Kyle Peterson; photosbykylepeterson@gmail.com

Sujata Iyengar, who has been teaching literature at the university since 1998, said she joined the protest after university administrators made comments about the return plans during a meeting earlier this week that were “a sign to me that they have not thought this through.” She believes the university should think more creatively about ways to limit exposure to COVID-19, such as holding courses in outdoor settings or giving greater consideration to any ideas students believe will be effective.

The university said in a statement, in part, that “(w)e have affirmatively addressed the core of these concerns through our comprehensive planning over the summer” and noted an announcement Wednesday that it has committed $250,000 to two emergency funds benefiting students who are experiencing critical and unexpected financial difficulties.

UGA’s fall semester begins on Aug. 20. Some University System schools begin classes Monday.

Graduate student Bryant Barnes, one of the protest organizers, said the current testing plans will not be enough to consistently test all students and employees. He wants all instructors to have the option to work remotely.

“The universities seem to be adamant people need to be on campus,” he said.