With the start of the academic semester across higher education institutions in Georgia, public colleges are offering variations of the residential experience to their students. However, with the widespread transmission of the delta variant and steady incline in COVID-19 cases across the state, many professors and students are concerned about the public health policies enacted by the Board of Regents and University System of Georgia. Prior to the start of the fall semester, Tech announced that the Institute would not be implementing a vaccine mandate, nor requiring masks in indoor spaces. Last week, many Tech professors collaborated with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to challenge and protest the lack of COVID-19 safety guidelines present on Georgia college campuses.
During the week of Sept. 13, a group of protesters was congregating daily on Tech Green, hoping to spread awareness regarding the importance of mask and vaccine mandates, along with gaining the attention of USG for further action. One such protestor, Dr. Carol Colatrella, is a professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication and also serves as the Co-Director of the Georgia Tech Center for the Study of Women, Science, and Technology. Dr. Colatrella emphasized the necessity for a layered approach to tackling public health concerns regarding the pandemic and said, “The faculty senate had an open meeting last week and passed three motions by 80-85%, so a majority of the faculty who represent as senators are in favor of putting these mandates forward for the USG system. It is the most pragmatic public health decision to make these factors a requirement.”
Her sentiments are echoed by a plethora of other faculty and students concerned about rising cases, at-risk members of the Tech community and healthcare services being overwhelmed.
Lecture halls across Tech’s campus are filled to capacity, leaving little to no room for social distancing and a majority of classes are no longer offering hybrid or virtual options for students, unless they are experiencing symptoms or are diagnosed with COVID-19.
Furthermore, a professor at UGA was even threatened with disciplinary action by USG personnel for requiring masks in their classroom, because the requirement goes against the policies outlined by the Board of Regents in their COVID-19 guidances for universities.
With no mask or vaccine requirement, the risk of exposure to a COVID-19 positive individual is much greater for the Tech community than it was last fall, especially for vulnerable and immunocompromised individuals.
Surveillance testing seems to be the logical solution for those concerned about contracting the virus, but there is no guidance from the university in terms of mandating surveillance testing.
The frustration of Tech professors is echoed throughout the state and country, as professors across the nation have expressed concern over state school systems’ inaction towards implementing mandatory mask mandates on their campuses and residential areas.
When asked about the validity of the protesters’ demands, Claudia Gomez, a second-year BIO student, said, “Obviously professors want to stay safe, especially when they’re teaching large classes with multiple sections. We should respect that, and the USG should change their policies to reflect CDC guidelines.
“The lack of a mask mandate shows a political stance, when it should be anything but that.”
Despite backlash, Acting USG Chancellor, Teresa MacCartney, defends the optional mask and vaccine guidance.
She argues that, as this is the state of Georgia’s official stance, that it is unnecessary to put such measures into effect on USG campuses.
Protesting professors and supportive students are looking for a positive response from President Cabrera and the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, hopeful for better state-wide public health policies that protect college campuses from becoming super-spreader institutions and causing harm to the Institute’s faculty, staff and students.