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SUNY New Paltz Faculty Voice Concerns About In-Person Instruction Amid Pandemic

SUNY New Paltz campus
Courtesy of SUNY New Paltz

College students have returned to classrooms as the Delta variant threatens to lengthen the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty members at SUNY New Paltz, concerned about bringing the infection home, are butting heads with administrators.

After a months-long disruption and a shift to remote learning, campus life is back for the most part, and SUNY has imposed COVID rules intended to keep students, faculty and staff safe at New York state schools.

At SUNY New Paltz, faculty with children at home too young to be vaccinated say they haven't been able to get permission to take their classes online, and some say they fear even asking because they are adjuncts with no job security. Beth Wilson is the faculty/staff union (UUP) President at SUNY New Paltz, a school with roughly 7,750 students. She says concerns began to emerge at the end of July, after back-to-class plans had already been agreed on and as more information about the more contagious Delta variant came out.

“This is particularly vexing for our adjuncts, they’re poorly paid and the most precariously employed members, many of whom have young children and they're being in…the ironic thing is many of them are dependent on teaching two courses that will help to maintain their family's health insurance. So they're being given sort of a horrible set of choices.”

Melissa Yang Rock is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at New Paltz.

"There's a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people on our campus, students in our classrooms. And so therefore, with the sort of the Delta variant, a lot of faculty and staff are very worried about bringing this home to vulnerable families, family members, and one of the issues, I think that's been of concern to parents of children under 12, is that there's no option to vaccinate our children at this point. And so therefore, we're very, very cautious and also very frustrated, because we've been protecting our kids for so long through this whole time period."

Jessica Pabón, an Associate Professor of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, says many classes are at capacity held in rooms with windows that do not open and offer no ability to social distance.

"I've been checking in with my students every day. Last week was the first week of classes. And I've heard so many stories, 'I was in a class with 60 people, we were elbow to elbow, there was no room for social distancing, some of the folks in the classroom didn't have a mask on, the professor took their mask off.' The hallways are really crowded, like very scared to and of course, not everyone has the same level of vulnerability, not everyone's making the same, you know, risk assessment. But I really feel like in this instance, we have to put people over profit. And that's not what I'm seeing happening right now in SUNY New Paltz."

SUNY New Paltz responded to a request for comment via email, which says in part:

"Decisions to change the modality of a class are made at the level of dean, not at the individual faculty level… Faculty and staff, including those with unvaccinated children under 12, have been working on campus in person throughout the pandemic and before a vaccine was available… Our students have made sacrifices to be here based on a promise we made to them to return to in-person instruction and their faith in us to fulfill that promise."

Wilson says she is hopeful the issues between the administration and faculty will soon be resolved.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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