Fairfield University faculty feel left out of COVID process

Some faculty at Fairfield University seek more transparency and input in the COVID-19 decision-making process.

Some faculty at Fairfield University seek more transparency and input in the COVID-19 decision-making process.

Patrick Sikes / For Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — Some Fairfield University faculty members say they want more of a role in the COVID-19 decision-making process and feel the school’s virus dashboard should be updated daily.

Irene Mulvey, mathematics department chairwoman and president of the American Association of University Professors, said professors have been receiving emails from students who say they will miss class for two weeks after they or their roommates have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Without the dashboard being updated, she said, some faculty do not know what to make of it.

As of Sept. 18, the university started updating it’s coronavirus dashboard twice a week. In a message posted to the school’s website, Vice President for Student Life Karen Donoghue said the decision came after an increase in students testing positive as well as more students being monitored by the school for their exposure to the virus.

“You might have a bunch of students in your class, but maybe that’s the only student that tested positive that week,” Mulvey said. “It isn’t nefarious activity, but there could be more transparency.”

According to Mulvey, it can create a situation where a faculty member does not know whether to be concerned.

“We’re the ones in the classrooms teaching the students,” said Mulvey, who feels the dashboard should be updated daily. “They should be telling us. We should be having full information so that we can protect our own health and our own families.”

In its latest update on Friday, Fairfield University reported 111 students have tested positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 1. As of Friday, two faculty and staff members had also tested positive.

David Crawford, Fairfield University’s AAUP chapter president, said the school has faced some challenges, including issues with its testing company, but said the biggest area of concern is transparency.

“We have a dashboard that gets updated twice a week, and many faculty find that insufficient,” he said. “Sharing information should not be so slow, nor should these difficulties have been unexpected.”

Crawford said the AAUP’s view of the situation is that the virus could be spreading throughout classrooms, affecting professors and students. Therefore, he said, they feel faculty should be well-represented in the key decision-making bodies that deal with the virus.

“Our membership remains unconvinced that they are,” Crawford said. “There are faculty on committees, but does that mean their voices are heard by actual decision makers? Put another way, people have expressed frustration with knowing which committees are relevant to decision making, how to funnel concerns and questions to them, or how to get answers back.”

In a prepared statement, Vice President of Marketing and Communication Jennifer Anderson said the school’s reopening plan and ongoing operation in response to the pandemic has involved employees, administrators and faculty working together to develop and refine strategies.

“Decisions regarding the university’s response to COVID-19 are made at the executive level with the benefit of input from the university task force, the public health advisory panel and the state Department of Public Health,” Anderson said.

“Faculty have input through their deans, their shared governance channels, such as Academic Council and through a Public Health Advisory Committee, chaired by a faculty member with additional faculty representatives as members,” she said.

Anderson said faculty have already been instrumental in driving changes — such as the doubling of the school’s sentinel testing and moving to twice a week dashboard reporting as well as the use of tents around campus for outdoor classrooms. She said the university has also engaged the student government officers on various task force committees.

Anderson also said it had the Academic Council, the highest elected faculty body, meet throughout the summer to ensure input.

“In addition, other shared governance committees also met throughout the summer to discuss and make recommendations regarding the current situation and reopening plans,” she said. “Fairfield is committed to its role in keeping our community safe and healthy, while working hard to deliver an exceptional academic experience to our students.”

Crawford said more faculty empowerment would help the situation.

“I do not believe this pandemic is going to be over very soon, and we on the (AAUP) will continue to agitate for our administration to work with our faculty representatives to continue to improve the way we manage it,” he said.