A message from political science professor Dr. Jacinda Swanson
Dear Members of the Western Michigan University Board of Trustees:
I’m writing to implore you to switch this Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting to a fully-virtual format to prevent it from potentially becoming a super-spreader event.
For several weeks, I had been planning to attend the meeting in-person to show support for WMU-AAUP President Cathryn Bailey, when she addresses the board concerning the faculty’s 78% vote of No Confidence in President Edward Montgomery’s leadership, which was announced one day after the board sadly made the decision to award President Montgomery a $75,000 bonus and a 1.5% retroactive pay raise. Strangely, the board made this decision despite the WMU-AAUP No Confidence vote underway at the time and the dismal results of the Faculty Senate’s November appraisal of the President, in which 74% of faculty respondents disagreed that the President is an effective leader.
On Friday, former head of the CDC, Dr. Tom Frieden, estimated that “nearly one in 10 people in the country today may have Covid.” If there are 100-200 people attending Thursday’s board meeting in-person, there could be 10-20 people there infected with Covid. Now that Omicron is the predominant variant in most parts of the country, in-person, indoor gatherings are particularly dangerous since Omicron is able to partly evade vaccines, is extremely contagious, and can be spread before or without being symptomatic.
A large in-person, indoor gathering is especially dangerous at WMU, given that there is no free, readily available testing for non-symptomatic vaccinated students, staff, and faculty; vaccinations and boosters are not required on campus; many individuals have not yet received boosters; unvaccinated individuals are only required to test once a week; to what extent and in which buildings the ventilation has been upgraded to prevent transmission is very unclear; and many people at the meeting will probably be wearing less effective cloth and surgical masks that are not tightly fitting.
Based on what I witnessed when I attended the December board meeting to support those speakers opposing the President’s proposed raise and bonus, there was almost no social distancing, and most, if not all, of the speakers took their (usually cloth) masks off when they addressed the meeting. I was distressed to see speakers do this in December when Michigan was experiencing a massive surge in Delta cases and the highest rates of Covid hospitalizations in the last year. Because virus particles spread further when individuals are speaking, this is precisely when masks are needed. Moreover, faculty and students attending in-person classes, as well as staff working on campus, certainly do not take off their masks when they speak in class or in campus buildings.
I very much hope that the board will switch Thursday’s board meeting to be entirely virtual. Particularly because I live with someone who works in a hospital and someone with a compromised immune system, I am extremely concerned about Michigan’s overburdened hospitals (and health care workers) and the dangers of this unprecedented surge in cases, which is resulting in far too many hospitalizations, deaths, and long-term disabilities arising from long Covid.
In addition, I hope of course that the board will seriously consider the grave concerns WMU faculty have with President Montgomery’s leadership, as well as the concerns expressed by Teaching Assistants Union President Thomas Fisher and Professional Instructors Organization President Jasmine LaBine during the December board meeting. Faculty, who typically devote decades of their careers and lives to WMU, are deeply invested in the future of our university and the wellbeing of our students and the staff who make the university run on a daily basis.
Dept. of Political Science