University of Arizona starts spring semester in-person despite pushback from faculty union

Union requests to teach remotely over COVID concerns
Union requests starting first few weeks of semester remotely
Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 5:03 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Students are back on campus at the University of Arizona for the first day of the spring semester. It comes as COVID positive cases continue to soar with the omicron variant.

The United Campus Workers of Arizona, a union representing campus faculty, is asking for flexibility to teach courses remotely for the first few weeks. The union received a response from the Provost’s office Tuesday but say it’s not quite the answer they’d hoped for.

“She sent it only to chairs, department heads and directors who oversee instruction,” said Gary Rhoades of the United Campus Workers of Arizona. “There’s a lot of unevenness as to what people are hearing in their department.”

He said the union had asked the university to start the semester remotely until Jan. 28. The response they got says instructors must work with their program directors to switch teaching methods. Going remote must be based off illness or caregiving issues.

“It’s really frustrating as an employee and student that your institution doesn’t have your health and safety front of mind,” Rhoades said.

Freshman Aaliyah Orozco says she’s immunocompromised and surprised to see the university holding classes in person.

“A lot of other things have shut down because of omicron and I really thought UA would do the same because they’ve done it before,” she said.

While other students don’t have many concerns.

“I’m excited to be back and seeing more people again,” said Haley Peterson, a student on campus Wednesday.

The university is providing surgical masks to students, faculty and staff, but the union is asking for them to provide higher quality N-95 masks and require their use in all indoor spaces on campus. The union also wants to see COVID testing to be required twice a week for everyone on campus.

“We’re limited to about 3000 a day. If you look at the numbers for 30,000 people it means you can only test every 10 days,” said University of Arizona President Dr. Robert Robbins during a press conference Monday.

The university has not budged on the union’s final request, that students be required to be vaccinated. Campus leaders say doing that would violate state law.

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