At the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester, PSC President James Davis told reporters what CUNY was doing to implement safety on campuses, and what more could be done:
• Student vaccination and in-person classes: Since the Spring, CUNY has emphasized that students taking in-person classes must be vaccinated. But the requirement was contingent on FDA approval for non-emergency use. CUNY told students they had until September 14 to submit proof of vaccination. CUNY also told students in the same notification, that they had 45 days after FDA approval to submit their proof of COVID vaccination. These are contradictory messages. In-person instructors were led to believe that their students would be vaccinated. That’s New York State guidance, and it’s what CUNY had followed until this summer. Now it turns out there will be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated students in classrooms until October 7. In response, some colleges are permitting faculty to begin in-person classes online, but some campuses are denying faculty requests. We urge that CUNY permit remote instruction until the state guidance can be met and in-person students are fully vaccinated.
• Social distancing: CUNY has told us: “we are at 6 feet” because of the high rates of community transmission in the city, but colleges are all over the place on this. They’re asking unvaccinated individuals to self-identify and self-segregate on the honor system. That practice is not workable. We need clear, consistent policies on distancing for all CUNY facilities that adhere to CDC guidance.
• Professional staff: A big thanks goes out to all the HEOs and CLTs who are preparing us for the Fall semester. If their work can be performed just as well remotely, why should they be compelled to come to campus at this point in the pandemic? Professional staff that don’t absolutely need to be on campus should be permitted, if they request it, to work remotely – just as they’ve done the past 18 months. While community transmission rates are high and vaccination rates remain low, this is the safe approach to begin the semester.
• On walk-throughs: Our members conducted walk-through inspections with CUNY management at more than 50 buildings across the university. Some were in decent shape, but many required repair and remediation. Keep in mind that CUNY colleges have deferred maintenance for many years due to budget cuts. Our members identified some facilities of particular concern, and the PSC has requested ventilation checks. CUNY has not responded after nearly a week. We need to confirm that the airflow in some of these buildings is safe, even without mechanical ventilation. They’re located at Queens College, Hunter College, Baruch College, Medgar Evers College and Bronx Community College. CUNY must comply with the union’s request to spot-check the air flow in these buildings.
• On COVID testing: CUNY has contracted for testing on-site, which is great. But we know how quickly the Delta variant spreads, and a one-week window for testing negative for COVID is too wide. We are urging that CUNY require a negative COVID test within 72 hours to access campuses while the rate of community transmission is high. As well, the data on testing of both unvaccinated and vaccinated members of the campus community must be made available to each college community: the number of people tested, and the number of positive tests. Transparency inspires confidence.