Tiana Reber | Mustang News

Cal Poly Administration has rejected the demands of a petition signed by nearly 4,000 community members following a week of mass frustration and record-breaking positivity rates.

In a public ASI Board of Directors meeting, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said the Jan. 3 start to winter quarter was “a real problem for us” and “not ideal.” Yet he stuck strongly to the COVID-19 testing policy he laid out, unless positivity rates increase further.

“It’s very difficult to make decisions based on petitions,” Armstrong said at the meeting. “We really respect the tenor and we also understand the great deal of emotion, but we’re gonna continue to consider those ideas and many others.”

The petition argues that lack of testing prior to in-person instruction as the omicron variant surges throughout the country has led to an “egregious” violation of public safety. 

In a Jan. 13 campus-wide email that has been fact checked by Mustang News, one of Armstrong’s responses to the community’s concerns was that online classes would not have given the university the same ability to mandate testing and booster shots for all students.

“The President’s office has just been painfully silent and frankly disingenuous in their response,” political science professor Michael Latner said.

In addition to highlighting the administration’s policy failures, the petition offers several solutions, including mandating the use and distribution of N-95/KN-95 masks on campus, scheduling in-person classes in rooms that have proper ventilation and space for social distancing, giving faculty the option to hold classes virtually for the winter quarter, improving isolation procedures and reinstating surveillance testing. 

The petition notes that Armstrong rejected two Academic Senate resolutions which suggested improvements to campus health and safety policy in March and September.

Political science professor R.G. Cravens was one of the several members of the university’s faculty union who drafted the petition.  

“The administration’s policy failures are the whole reason that we’re concerned because they’re trying to sweep things under the rug,” Cravens said. “The less information they have, the better for them, because then they can tell us that we’re being alarmist, and our concerns are unjustified.”

Armstrong also said that surveillance testing would lead to more false positive tests and is not currently supported by public health data. 

Despite the lack of action from the university, Cravens said he was surprised to see how quickly the petition spread organically. 

“The response and the number of signatures were obviously tapping into the shared anxiety and concern of lots of people,” Cravens said. 

According to a survey conducted by the Cal Poly faculty union, more than 60% of surveyed faculty chose to start the first one to two weeks of winter quarter remotely. The petition suggests that this number would have been higher if staff were not fearful of retaliation from the administration.

Cravens said he feels a responsibility to stand up for faculty that might not be in a position to speak out against the university.

“The administration has a lot of ways that it can negatively affect the careers of faculty who disagree with them and that’s a big concern,” Cravens said. “That speaks to the power imbalance on campus…That’s why we thought it was best to show a united front with this petition.”

While many faculty members embraced temporary remote instruction, those choosing to continue in-person felt similarly dismissed by the university. Natural resources management professor Richard Thompson voiced his discontent with online instruction. 

“The Cal Poly reputation will be greatly tarnished if we continue to allow faculty to pretend that COVID is so dangerous that vaccinations and masks galore are insufficient when really they just want an easy income or to project their political opinions,” Thompson said in an email to Mustang News. “It has truly devolved to the old axiom – ‘I’ll pretend to teach and they’ll pretend to learn.’”

However, Cravens argues that moving online while the campus community had the chance to be tested would have kept students’ best interests at heart.

“This is the largest outbreak of COVID on campus since the beginning of the pandemic,” Cravens said. “Many of the faculty felt that because the administration isn’t doing anything about that, it’s our responsibility to try to protect as many people as we can, including ourselves and our students.”

The union is set to hold an emergency town hall meeting to further rally support for the petition on Jan. 17.

“The goal to move students back into the classroom was tremendous and tremendously misguided,” Latner said. “It’s not just about student’s health but really the university’s almost total disregard for the health of faculty is what’s been most disturbing.” 

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