Faculty leaders hold second town hall to address questions on reopening of campus, COVID concerns

Troy Pierson, reporter

Kent State faculty members and administrative leaders held a second town hall meeting on Aug. 3 to address additional concerns regarding the reopening of campus and procedures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Interim Vice President and Provost Melody Tankersley spearheaded the meeting alongside Associate Provost Sue Averill, Faculty Senate Chair Pam Grimm, Faculty Senate Vice Chair and President of the full-time non-tenure track Unit Tracy Laux, President of the Tenure Track Unit Deborah Smith and Interim Associate Provost Manfred van Dulmen. The meeting lasted an hour via Microsoft Teams, and each panelist addressed a number of questions submitted by faculty members both prior to the meeting and in a live chat. 

Grimm addressed the needs of faculty to make their classes remotely accessible at a moment’s notice if the infection rate makes on-campus instruction unsafe. Grimm encouraged the use of face coverings and adherence to the Flashes Safe Seven principles to make on-campus instruction available and promote public health and safety. Grimm said the university will not take temperatures for anyone entering buildings on campus, as there is no demonstrated reason for that practice at this time. 

Grimm also said faculty will be notified of students who make an adjustment to their schedule to make a class remote if they cannot attend in person. 

Laux covered the responsibility of faculty members to enforce the Flashes Safe Seven principles while teaching in-person classes. If a student refuses to wear a mask in a classroom setting, faculty should encourage that student to wear a mask. If the student further refuses to wear a mask, faculty should recommend the student leave the classroom, and if the student continues to disrupt the environment, faculty then should dismiss the entire class for the safety of the other students. That faculty member would then need to contact their unit administrator of the disruptive student, who would then appear before a student conduct court for their actions. Tankersley said the university will equip faculty with extra face masks to provide to students if they come to class and do not have one. 

Averill stated full time faculty may also be disciplined if they do not follow the Flashes Safe Seven principles. Smith said if a faculty member faces legal repercussions if a student becomes sick in a class, that member is protected under qualified immunity as long as they followed the Flashes Safe Seven. 

Smith described new technologies coming to classrooms in the fall. Each classroom will have a camera system that enables faculty members to livestream their classes to students taking the class remotely. 

Laux also addressed physical distancing in classrooms. Reduced room capacities will be posted outside each classroom, and each faculty member must ensure those numbers do not extend beyond the room’s threshold. 

van Dulmen discussed the university’s plan to establish an advisory system for life on campus. Adopting a similar process as the state of Ohio, the university’s system will gauge the severity of COVID-19 on campus and determine which in-person classes would be available. van Dulmen stated this four-level system will be monitored through indicators such as the amount of positive cases on campus, the amount of personal protective equipment [PPE] available and the number of cases in the county. This monitoring will be consulted alongside local health departments and health commissioner. 

van Dulmen said the university will also issue travel advisories if any student travels to a state with rising infection rates. A daily operating team will be established to look at all capacity indicators for the central administration to see what the university should do moving forward.

van Dulmen said the nature of how the university deals with those who test positive on campus depends on the situation. According to consultations with local health experts, van Dulmen said someone is only considered a close contact if they are within six feet of the infected person for 15 minutes. The COVID response team will determine if a class needs to transition to remote instruction and whether or not any students in that class need to get tested. Per the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act [FERPA] regulations, faculty may not be immediately contacted if a student tests positive with the virus. The COVID response team will also only contact those who are considered close contacts in a given situation. Any students who are infected and/or are waiting for test results in the isolated dorm space on campus will have staff tending to their needs with food and healthcare. 

van Dulmen also said the university is pursuing different cleaning options for a space where COVID was active. Tankersley noted the cleaning processes for fall semester can be done in a matter of hours to make a given environment hospitable for use. 

Tankersley updated the situation regarding international students from the previous town hall meeting and said around 80 percent of international students are now scheduled for face-to-face courses in compliance with ICE’s mandate three weeks ago. Tankersley said she is confident this change will encompass all international students’ schedules by the start of the fall semester.

Contact Troy Pierson at [email protected].