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BOONE — More than 200 faculty at Appalachian State University are calling to move all possible courses online until vaccinations rates increase and COVID-19 transmission rates decrease.

The petition, which was delivered to Chancellor Sheri Everts and Provost Heather Norris among other App State officials on Aug. 26 via email, has 214 faculty signatures. App State had 1,396 faculty in 2020, according to the university.

The petition wants online classes where possible until the vaccination rate for students is above 70 percent and the community level COVID-19 transmission in Watauga County is less than 5 percent.

App State reports that 51 percent of students and 88 percent of faculty are vaccinated as of Aug. 30.

Emily Dakin, a social work faculty member and one of the creators of the petition, said the petition came about when the chancellor first announced that only 47 percent of App State students had acknowledged they were fully vaccinated.

“I can say to people that I’ve talked with, and I’ve talked to a number of people, that the vaccination rate was received with great concern,” Dakin said. “I was really surprised. I kind of entered the classroom thinking most of my students were vaccinated so the classroom was probably relatively safe. I was surprised by that and extremely concerned.”

Dakin said that a number of faculty were talking and growing concerned, which led to the petition. The thought would be encouraging vaccination by pivoting to online classes.

“For me this isn’t in the spirit of like us against administration, it’s more us trying to provide a voice that administration can use to express the desires of the faculty and to advocate for us,” Dakin said. “They can’t advocate for us if they don’t know what we want and what we’re calling for and if they don’t know how we’re feeling. We want this to be something that will help the administration, and help them to help us.”

She also said another concern was that she knows more and more people who are getting sick, which is concerning to her since she has a 4-year-old who can’t get vaccinated.

Rising cases and community spread was also a concern for Lynn Siefferman, another creator of the petition and a member of the biology faculty. She said her main motivations for the petition were for the safety of the student body and the instructors and staff on campus.

“The timing of the rise of the Delta (variant of COVID-19) is unfortunate because it gave the university less ability to plan because it became so prevalent later in the summer,” Siefferman said. “I feel like the decisions that were made in hindsight are now quite unsafe to have students on campus and in large classrooms without social distancing in place in the classroom.”

In response to the petition, App State spokesperson Megan Hayes said the chancellor and provost are working with faculty “through mutually established processes with a shared goal of prioritizing the safety and health of the App State community and fulfilling the primary educational mission of the university.”

According to Hayes, the majority of faculty are teaching in person. Employees who need a disability accommodation due to health-related concerns are able to complete an accommodation request, which is reviewed confidentially on a case-by-case basis by the Office of Disability Resources.

“As someone who has battled cancer in the last year, I am in a medical category for which additional COVID-prevention precautions are recommended,” Everts said in an Aug. 27 email to campus. “While getting my booster vaccine this week, my thoughts turned — with heartfelt appreciation — to everyone who has become fully vaccinated or is in the process of becoming fully vaccinated. Every single vaccinated person contributes to a safer face-to-face learning environment for the entire Appalachian community.”

Employees have above an 85 percent vaccination rate as of Aug. 23, according to App State. Dakin said she understands the App State administration has a lot of challenges in trying to navigate the pandemic and are limited as far as their autonomy and authority to some of the issues.

“The single most effective tool we have to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is the vaccine, which the university offers for students, faculty and staff every day,” Hayes said. “Information about vaccines, the benefits of getting vaccinated and incentives for doing so are provided to campus multiple times each week.”

Hayes also said the university is taking other precautions like face coverings being required in all indoor locations; enhanced cleaning procedures; hand sanitizer stations have been placed throughout campus, including at each elevator and in every classroom; and face shields and clear face coverings being provided to departments upon request for any faculty member who wishes to use them while actively teaching.

Dakin said she knows that shifting to online classes would be frustrating to many students as she also wants to be in person because she loves being with her students directly.

“I understand their frustration,” Dakin said. “I would say I would use any frustration that they have to try to encourage their friends to get vaccinated.”

Both Siefferman and Dakin think App State students can get to a 70 percent vaccination rate.

“I think one of the main reasons they’re not vaccinated is because it is not something that has been demanded of them,” Siefferman said.

Siefferman said if there were negative consequences put in place for not having been vaccinated, it might encourage more vaccinations.

“I’d really like to see a mandate for vaccination just like there are mandates for other vaccinations for infectious diseases that have been around a lot longer,” Siefferman said. “But that didn’t seem to be a practical approach to our petition, given that we recognize that the administration on campus doesn’t necessarily have the power to make those demands.”

If nothing else, Dakin said she hopes the petition would serve as a message to students that faculty were “pleading with our student body to please protect themselves and protect everyone else.”

“There are a lot of people spending a lot of time trying to work on this petition, and it’s all coming from the spirit of wanting to protect everyone in our community and including our students,” Dakin said.

The full petition can be found at tinyurl.com/mwcdb9mm.

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(6) comments

sickofstupid

Not everyone has the option of hiding at home and living in fear. Our community has to continue to function. Medical staff, police, fire, admin, retail, food service, etc...etc...these people can't just vote to stay at home . It's beyond comprehension how paralyzed by fear some of these "professionals" are. What's even more concerning is these ppl are considered to be advanced thinkers in our society. We pay an ample amount of money to have them influence our children. It's disappointing. Be weary of those that scream the loudest.

guest139

Here’s an idea. App State is keeping record of those who are vaccinated and not vaccinated. Make the unvaccinated go online for classes. Maybe it would encourage them to actually do something to help the pandemic go away.

guest135

I would be in favor of moving to online classes if the institution lowers tuition and teacher pay. The quality of education delivered online these past three semesters in my experience has been abysmal to say the least. I fear some of these "concerns" are born from laziness, not care for the student body. The legality for a vaccine mandate has already been established. Let's move forward with it and get past this nonsense. This is not the college experience I payed thousands of dollars for.

thechaosaysmuuuu

Lower teacher's pay? Do you actually know where the money you spend to come to App goes? It sure ain't going to teachers. You desperately need to take a closer look at your receipts (https://studentaccounts.appstate.edu/tuition-fees/fallspring-tuition-and-fees/2021-22-tuition-and-fees). Many faculty on campus are NTT's, and make less than $40k/year, even with Masters/PhD. Are you really gonna claim that this is "too much"? I'm sorry that you've felt that the last three semesters has been tough, not everyone is cut out to teach online, but I think you ought to be directing your frustrations towards the admins who provide almost no resources/training/funding to help teachers make the transition. The same admins who continue to rake in hundreds of thousands each every year, and who flush millions of student dollars down the drain to subsidize Athletics and other unnecessary projects related to growth.

Try teaching throughout this whole mess before your start throwing accusations around in the wrong places. You've got a lot to learn about how this place functions...

guest131

A minor point about the second and third sentences of this article: “ The petition, which was delivered to Chancellor Sheri Everts and Provost Heather Norris among other App State officials on Aug. 26 via email, has 214 faculty signatures. App State had 1,396 faculty in 2020, according to the university.”

This is a bit misleading. 214 faculty out of 1,396 does not seem like a lot, but your readers should be aware that many, if not most of those 1,396 faculty are contingent faculty - adjuncts, instructors, lecturers, or, like me, senior lecturers. Our contracts are contingent on any number of factors including not ruffling administrative feathers. That many of us did not sign that petition doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t agree with it.

To be clear, in my case, I’ve taught in-person classes throughout the pandemic. I wouldn’t want to return to Zoom and I think most of my students wouldn’t want to do so either. However, if the number of active Covid-19 cases on campus and in the Boone community spike and make in-person instruction even riskier than it is now, I would support our administration if a decision was made to take a temporary “time out” - reducing transmission rates is simply wise public health practice.

thechaosaysmuuuu

Seems fair, considering that 3 of the past 4 weeks have been the highest reported percentages of positive cases since testing first started last August. The last two weeks at over a 10% positivity rate. Considering that the school was 100% online this time last year when rates were far lower, but that right now they're basically operating in a "business as usual" fashion, seems like this is gonna get out of hand real quickly...and they're not even through week #3...

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