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OneKU Faculty Letter to Provost and Chancellor - September 6, 2020

Updated: Sep 27, 2020

September 6, 2020


Dear Provost Bichelmeyer and Chancellor Girod:

On Friday we learned that one of our colleagues tested positive for Covid 19 after developing symptoms. She has been teaching in person. She has had 8 students inform her that they would stop attending in-person classes because they or a roommate had tested positive. At no point while teaching was she contacted by any university or public health official to inform her of the multiple positive tests among her students. When informed of her own positive test she was told she would not be contacted by any university official. She was further told she had to share her diagnosis only with any persons with whom she had been indoors in the 48 hours before she developed symptoms.

It is unconscionable that this is how Covid 19 is being managed by KU, a Research One university. Concern for individuals’ privacy was evoked by elected leaders in the state of Kansas as reason for enacting legislation that restricts the most basic public health responses to Covid 19. By preventing information sharing, limiting contact tracing and not requiring disclosure of locations where virus clusters have occurred the Kansas legislature made decisions based on politics, not on science. Such policies have no place in a university. In repeating that comprehensive contact tracing is not mandatory because of concern for the privacy of individuals KU has abdicated its responsibility to lead based on science and on the very expert knowledge students pay to acquire at KU.[1]

In voting to remove authority about Covid 19 and public health policy from the Governor, leaving decisions to county officials, the Kansas legislature put its own people at risk. The overwhelming majority of counties in Kansas refused to follow Governor Kelly’s mask/social distance guidelines and limits on group gatherings. They did so on the grounds that they did not have Covid 19 in those counties. The virus is now in all 105 counties in the state – homes to most of our students. As of September 4 the rate of positivity increase in Kansas is 10.6% and in Douglas County it is 6.9% - both numbers above CDC and WHO guidelines for safe re-opening. While testing in the state is now decreasing, the seven day positivity rate for the week ending on September 3 was 17.3% in Kansas.[2]

Last week Provost Bichelmeyer wrote a letter in which she expressed her sense of how difficult it is to live with uncertainty. We disagree that uncertainty is our biggest problem. We are and have been certain that this virus will continue to spread without large scale and repeated testing; without testing of asymptomatic people; without mandatory limitations on gatherings; without contact tracing; and without far more aggressive and regular cleaning protocols. As the cold and wet weather sets in and we move indoors this becomes more vital.

We are also certain that complacency in the face of virus spread should be challenged. The presumption that college-aged students are low risk elides other fundamental facts regarding the tragic patterns we have seen play out across the US. In May, Kansas had the highest racial disparities in deaths due to Covid 19 of any of the 41 states then reporting this information. In the US and adjusted for age, African American people are 3.6 times more likely to die as a result of Covid 19 than whites, and Indigenous people 3.4 times more likely, and Latinos 3.2 times more likely. That means college-aged students of color die as a result of Covid 19 at a greater rate than their white peers based on age and on race.[3]

We have heard of no specific policies KU has enacted to provide the additional care and resources to these communities and their families on our campus or to center the importance of these horrible statistics in making decisions about our classes, offices, and sporting events.

Below find the link to the letter we submitted in June, signed by more than 500 members of our community and to which we never received a response. We write now to state our conviction that keeping our community safe requires that KU move to remote learning and teaching, suspend athletic competition, and prepare a robust, continuous testing and contact tracing regimen in line with public health best practices.

https://sites.google.com/d/1bTiUAyIaNQFVQyBgdOuxrw99-onkduUq/p/1N1pDH8CJE2gv5aF-BsS4nPSJcneqo2IG/edit

We look forward to your response.

OneKU Faculty

CC: University Senate President Sanjay Mishra

Faculty Senate President Lua Yuille

Staff Senate President Abby Ehling

Student Senate President Apramay Mishra

[1] Letter from Watkins Health Services by email to students, faculty and staff, Sept, 1, 2020, 1:00 PM. https://protect.ku.edu/compliance [2]https://coronavirus-response-dgco.hub.arcgis.com/ https://fortune.com/2020/09/04/covid-positivity-rates-states-us-red-zone-covid/ https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/testing/individual-states/kansas [3] https://www.apmresearchlab.org/covid/deaths-by-race#rates

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