A growing number of Illinois State University faculty and staff are asking ISU President Larry Dietz for more transparency and protection in planning for the reopening of campus. 

The university has not responded yet to the letter, which began circulating among faculty, staff and students in the past few days. 

The 16-page document outlines multiple concerns for campus and the surrounding community when students return in the fall. While it goes in-depth, the report focuses on a few main topics. 

Effect on the Community

Students would not only be returning to campus, the letter argues, the would be returning to the community as well. 

"It is highly likely that a COVID-19 outbreak at ISU will have its most severe impacts off campus, hitting communities of color and low-income communities in Bloomington-Normal hardest," the letter states. 

The letter suggests that ISU implement a mandatory requirement in the "Redbird Pledge" that students maintain social distancing practices and act responsibility while off campus.  

Social distancing

The letter argues that Illinois State’s hybrid system will contradict the core value of protecting staff and students.

This comes from the fact that currently, Illinois State does not allow working from home for all faculty. Instead, according to the letter, working from home is only a possibility for "employees who qualify for an 'applicable leave' or if they have a 'disability which prevents them from reporting to work as directed and would like to request a reasonable accommodation.'"

It also argues the hybrid model will contradict other values put forward by the university, such as diversity and protection of mental health, and offering quality instruction. 

The letter calls on the university to allow staff to work from home if they choose without requiring the disclosure of personal information to do so. Essentially, if a faculty member wants to work from home, they should be allowed to without having to identify their own medical history or a family member's. 

"For as long as physical distancing requirements are necessary, university messaging should refrain from suggesting that remote instruction is necessarily inferior to face-to-face instruction under the present circumstances," the letter states. 

Tracking, tracing and testing

Faculty and staff are also calling on the university to develop and publish plans to trace and test students and staff for COVID-19. 

The letter asks that testing be readily available and at no cost. They also ask that employees face regular symptom and temperature checks. 

It also calls on ISU to go further with testing by having a free, on-campus testing site. The letter argues ISU should require students to be tested for COVID-19 before coming back to campus in August.

Additionally, the letter asks that ISU provide quarantine housing for students or faculty members who fear they may have the virus. Returning to their permanent residences could be dangerous for the student's family, as well as impossible if the student lives a great distance away. 

Fair work and planning

"No employees should have their workloads intensified unduly for reasons related to COVID-19 planning/responses without an appropriate increase in compensation," the letter states. "Whether additional work is addressed through increased compensation or through the hiring of additional personnel is a decision that should be made with the input of the affected bargaining units or employee groups."

This part of the letter asks that Illinois State does not discourage employees from working from home by changing their time off and sick leave policies. Additionally, workers who take over for an employee affected by COVID-19 should be appropriately compensated and be able to refuse the excess work. 

Additionally, the letter calls for transparency in any budgeting decisions made that are affected by COVID-19, and to take input from employees affected by any changes.  

ELIZABETH SEILS is Editor in Chief of The Vidette. She can be contacted at elseils@ilstu.edu Follow her on Twitter at @SeilsElizabeth 


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