Several student-led organizations, including the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA) and the BIPOC Coalition of UW-Madison, gathered outside of Chancellor Becky Blank’s office Monday to demand a switch to remote instruction during the first two weeks of the spring semester.
Earlier this month, Blank sent an email to the UW-Madison student body encouraging, but not requiring, attendees to get tested for COVID prior to returning to campus. Student groups present at Monday’s protest have stated that they feel this measure is not sufficient to ensure that safety of students and faculty.
Their demands for remote learning follow record numbers of COVID-19 cases in the Dane County area during January, with 17,985 residents testing positive within the past two weeks.
Protestors called for the UW administration to take more active measures against COVID, including temporarily returning to online instruction to help minimize the spread among students, many of whom have just returned from winter break from outside of Dane County.
In an open letter to Chancellor Rebecca Blank, authored by the Executive Board of the TAA, the organization made seven demands including:
- Remote learning for the initial two weeks of the semester with a reassessment by Feb. 15
- Clearer policies regarding masking indoors and more stringent masking requirements
- N-95 or KN-95 masks provided to all campus employees, departments, centers and students
- The creation of clear, public thresholds for updating the University’s response to COVID-19
- Flexibility in course modality for departments and instructors throughout the semester
- Grant broader COVID accommodation requests for faculty, staff, students and student workers
- Reinstate restrictions on large gatherings and university-sponsored travel
The executive board of the TAA stated in the letter that they feel these precautions are necessary in order to ensure the safety of students and the greater Madison community.
“There is a difference between ‘in-person is better’ and ‘in-person during a continued pandemic is better.’ But if we hope to return to a normal (and more importantly, safe) semester, the numbers make clear that the only reasonable course of action is to stay home” the letter states.
As of Jan. 24, the letter has been signed by 355 members of the UW-Madison community and has been handed over to the office of chancellor.
The BIPOC Coalition released a statement on Facebook in support of the demands made in the open letter, stating that the organization feels that the university has failed to take adequate measures to ensure the safety of returning students and staff.
“Chancellor Blank and UW Administrators have continued to place students, staff, faculty, workers and community members at risk with their catastrophic response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the coalition stated. The university has dismissed folks’ concerns about the Omicron variant, particularly the concerns of our disabled and immunocompromised peers who are at heightened risk.”
ASM spokesperson Tyler Katzenberger explained that ASM also supports instruction temporarily returning to an online format on the basis that it will protect a greater number of individuals and also ensure that students in quarantine can still receive an education.
“ASM stands in solidarity with on-campus workers,” Katzenberger said. “While some students may feel comfortable going to in-person classes, it’s important to remember many students, faculty and academic staff have health conditions that prevent them from safely attending in-person classes. Additionally, anyone in quarantine or isolation is physically unable to attend live classes. UW-Madison must make accommodations for these individuals.”
Blank has not directly responded to the demands made by student organizations. However, on Jan. 22, she released a statement affirming the university’s intention to provide students with a safe and enjoyable experience during the spring semester.
“One thing that we have learned over the past four semesters is that COVID-19 will continue to be present, in ever-evolving forms, for the foreseeable future,” Blank stated. “Our goals remain the same: Carrying forward our essential teaching, research and outreach missions, creating the best possible experience for our students and providing resources and care for our community.”
In-person classes will resume for the spring semester on Tuesday, Jan. 25.