On Aug. 20, worker and student union UAW 2865 held a joint labor-management meeting with Jessica Graham and Tara Wise of the UC Santa Barbara Employee & Labor Relations Board, and Cindy Doherty, director of UCSB’s Academic Personnel, to seek answers for UCSB’s protocol for reopening campus, controlling COVID-19’s spread, and keeping on-campus workers and students safe during the pandemic.
The Employee & Labor Relations Board says there have been no plans made for how to safely reopen the campus, how the school will mobilize against COVID-19, and how academic student employees (ASE) will be protected at work and at home.
Though Chancellor Henry T. Yang recently sent out an email update stating that almost all fall quarter classes — aside from a select number of labs and performance classes — will be held online, the university has kept its constituents in the dark regarding exact details of reopening.
With the fluctuations in the COVID-19 curve over the past few months, plans that higher-education institutions have developed remain subject to change. Since the tail end of June, numbers of new cases have oscillated between steep spikes and drops.
According to KCSB-FM news, cases in Santa Barbara County have generally diminished; but, cases in Isla Vista and Goleta are still on the rise, especially among citizens between the ages of 18 and 29. Last week, the Public Health Department of Santa Barbara County confirmed the first COVID-19-related death in Isla Vista; the individual was between 50 and 69 years old and involved with a “congregate care facility.”
Though UCSB Housing, Dining, & Auxiliary Enterprises has made plans for provisional student lodging for COVID-19 patients, the virus will remain a primary concern once the campus eventually reopens. These plans to address this concern already include paid leave for sick ASEs but ideally should also include remote availability of in-person course material and sufficient healthcare services for students living on campus with symptoms.
The university decisions responding to the COVID-19 crisis have mainly been in the hands of university management, which broadly includes the chairs of different academic and staff departments. While the Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) commission at UCSB has published information on the nature of the virus and the appropriate protocol to follow on their website, they are not directly involved in the executive decisions relevant to the changing state of public health.
“There’s a lot of information on (the EH&S) website, but they are not responsible for enforcement,” said Tara Wise in the joint labor-management meeting. “There is no specific enforcement that has been designed.”
The most critical questions with campus reopening revolve around classroom sizes, enforcing the active resistance against COVID-19, and what sources the university is using to inform them about their decisions.
In Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s most recent COVID-19 update, he stated that almost all courses will likely be held remotely; he confirmed that currently, UCSB is not authorized to hold any indoor lectures. Despite the terms of this update, the current incline in cases has made any plans to really “reopen” the campus unlikely for the Fall quarter.
With the reopening of campus also comes the need to enforce the rules surrounding public safety. The UCSB Police Department has not been enforcing social distancing protocol, and there are no plans to involve them in it later on.
UCSB is crafting another self-reporting system to hold ASEs accountable for any behavior that violates public health guidelines, yet this self-reporting system may raise another set of concerns. Many student feedback systems, especially those pertaining to teaching assistant evaluations, have historically demonstrated a bias against women and people of color.
A self-reporting system that seeks external confirmation may minimize the chances of racially and sexually charged targeting, but any self-reporting system could be problematic in the future.
The issue of worker’s protections, specifically ASEs who work in the research labs or work as teaching assistants, is largely relevant in figuring out how the campus will reopen. According to Jessica Graham in the joint labor-management meeting, an ASE is seen as a worker only when they are in the workplace; otherwise, they are considered students. This could mean that if an ASE were to be in an indoor gathering of more than ten people outside of their job, they may not be suspended from their work, since they violated safety guidelines as students rather than as teachers.
“We want to make sure that the ASEs are comfortable with working on campus if there’s still the need,” said Dylan Kupsh, the campus unit chair of UAW 2865, in an interview with The Bottom Line. “Every voice needs to be represented.”
Moreover, a way to make sure that student workers are secure in their place of work during the pandemic has yet to be addressed. At the joint labor-management meeting, it was confirmed that the university would accept a situation in which an ASE would need to work on campus despite possible health concerns. Undoubtedly, immunocompromised workers need a voice in the decisions made during these tumultuous times.
Chancellor Yang has already shared plans to go remote for the Fall quarter. However, every university should be transparent with its students and faculty with what goes into their decisions and how their plans will be implemented. When UCSB ultimately reopens its doors, its community needs to know they have options, resources, and backups for any changes that may arise.