Temple Association of University Professionals, the union at Temple University for faculty, professional librarians and academic professionals, met with university officials on Jan. 18 to discuss safety and COVID-19 protocols, including boosters and masks.
TAUP wants to center faculty voices in discussions with university administration especially regarding COVID-19 safety and protocols, said Will Jordan, a policy, organizational and leadership studies professor and president of TAUP.
TAUP union officers also distributed a petition to the Temple community outlining COVID-19 safety concerns and protocols prior to the meeting. The petition calls for increased testing capacity and re-defining “fully vaccinated” to include boosters for those eligible and received 815 signatures as of Jan. 24.
The petition also advocates for a KN95 mask requirement on campus, updated and proper ventilation, especially in older buildings, and flexible working and learning arrangements based on a variety of different COVID-specific risk factors that may not be covered in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
TAUP does not believe that Temple’s COVID-19 plans for the Spring 2022 semester will adequately protect students and faculty.
Temple believes that TAUP’s messaging regarding the university’s response to booster vaccinations, mask requirements, administration accommodations and contact tracing and testing is misleading, wrote Stephen Orbanek, a university spokesperson in a statement to The Temple News.
To make their decisions on COVID-19 mitigation, Temple met with faculty members who are public health, infectious disease and clinical care experts. A collective decision was made to follow CDC guidelines, Orbanek wrote.
As of Jan. 23, there are 190 active cases of COVID-19 at Temple, according to the university’s vaccine and case dashboard.
Here are the results from TAUP and Temple’s meeting.
On Dec. 22, the university announced the Spring 2022 semester would begin with two weeks of virtual learning and in-person classes would resume on Jan. 24. The decision was in response to rising COVID-19 cases across the region and country from the Omicron variant and anticipated spikes in cases post-holiday.
As students and employees returned to in-person classes on Jan. 24, TAUP wanted Temple to mandate boosters, Jordan said.
The university has encouraged, not mandated, boosters for eligible individuals.
Temple has typically followed the City of Philadelphia when it comes to vaccine mandates. The university announced their mandate for the primary series of COVID-19 vaccination hours after Philadelphia announced the same requirement for all students, employees and health care workers at city universities. Temple also followed the city’s lead in extending the COVID-19 vaccination deadline to Nov. 15, 2021.
“[Temple is] doing some things right but I am not sure they are robust enough,” Jordan said. “There’s been a vaccine mandate, but to my knowledge no booster mandate, which there should be.”
TAUP wanted Temple to provide KN95 masks to students to mitigate the spread of the Omicron variant, Jordan said.
In a Jan. 21 announcement, Provost and Senior Vice President Gregory Mandel indicated that cloth masks alone are no longer allowed in university buildings. Temple will be offering a supply of free KN95 masks to students this week at the Howard Gittis Student information desk, the TECH Center security desk, the Charles Library security desk and the Bell Building, on Montgomery Avenue near 12th Street. Students will get one mask after they swipe their OWLcard.
“The university has said that they would provide one KN95 mask, per person, students or faculty as long as they last and they also said that there was a limited supply,” said Debi Lemieur, a union representative. “This is absurd, KN95 masks only last one day unless you know, you can recycle them, maybe stretch it out to a week. So what are they doing giving us protection for one week?”
The university will continue to accommodate employees who submit an accommodation request and proper documents during COVID-19. These accommodations can range from an employee’s needs and preferences like flexibility in hours and remote teaching, Orbanek wrote.
However, TAUP wants Temple to cater to employees who have accommodations that are not included in the Americans with Disabilities Act, like caregiving or cohabitation with a high-risk individual.
“The union objects to the administration using ADA as their fallback and sending people to HR and only addressing ADA accommodations,” Lemieur said. “And the reason the unit union objects to that is because ADA does not sufficiently address the complications involved with COVID.”