Coronavirus, Education

Some Ga. Professors Push For Schools To Have More Autonomy When Mitigating COVID-19

Faculty at Georgia Tech wanted to send a message to university system and campus officials this week by protesting in favor of mandating masks and COVID-19 mandates on campuses.
Faculty at Georgia Tech wanted to send a message to university system and campus officials this week by protesting in favor of mandating masks and COVID-19 mandates on campuses.
Credit Martha Dalton / WABE
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Professors at many of Georgia’s public colleges and universities are holding protests this week in support of mandating masks and COVID-19 vaccines on campuses. The demonstrations have been organized by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

The 26 colleges and universities in Georgia’s public university system are governed by the Board of Regents. That body has said it won’t require masks or vaccines on campuses.

Gov. Brian Kemp has said mandating vaccines and masks for colleges would create divisions. Acting USG Chancellor Teresa MacCartney reiterated the governor’s stance last week, saying the system is “in alignment” with his expectations for state agencies during the pandemic.

“Everybody has the ability to get vaccinated,” she said. “Everybody has the ability to wear a mask. We’re doing everything we can to get students, faculty, and staff access to vaccinations and to wear masks on campuses.”

But at a protest this week, some Georgia Tech instructors said colleges should have more autonomy when it comes to mitigating the virus.

“As case rates fluctuate–going up and down–to be able to say, ‘We’re going to have to take these strategies right now because cases are higher,’” said Josh Cohen, who teaches communications. “If they go lower, maybe we don’t have to do that. But right now, everybody’s operating under the same guidelines.”

Fellow teacher John Taylor said a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t make sense because schools have different needs.

“I do think that what is good for a school in metro Atlanta might not necessarily be the same as what’s good for a school in a more rural area,” he said. “I think it is about that flexibility and I think schools should have autonomy.”

Faculty can urge students to wear masks but can’t require it. They can’t ask about a student’s vaccination status. They can’t teach remotely without approval from administrators.

“We’ve had a lot of students who are getting sick and being responsible and staying out of the classroom, but that just means we’re basically teaching hybrid without the ability to teach hybrid,” Cohen said.

Taylor said mandates would help protect those most susceptible to the virus.

“I think maybe there’s a perception with schools, ‘Well, it’s young people; they’re not vulnerable,’” he said. “But we have many people in our community who are vulnerable and…who might not necessarily have the best security to, say, stay home from work if they get sick.”

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