Late yesterday, GC President Robin Garrell announced that on Monday, Aug. 16, the Graduate Center will open at Phase 3 of a new Fall 2021 reopening plan (dated Aug. 9), which increases occupancy to 80% building capacity (not to exceed 4,892 persons). The previous plan, dated Aug. 2nd, stated that the GC would open at Phase 2 with 40% occupancy and require 6-ft distancing. That is also what we were told at our pre-occupancy health and safety walkthrough last week. In the new plan, there will be no physical distancing requirement and no room occupancy limits. No furniture will be reconfigured, no seats will be blocked out to reduce density. The communication plan, it seems, consists of posting paper signs.
What happened between Aug. 2 and Aug. 9 that could lead an administration supposedly “committed to the health and safety of everyone” to double indoor occupancy levels? The Delta variant is surging across the country, and the CDC lists New York City as experiencing high levels of COVID-19 transmission. The GC is loosening restrictions as others in the city are tightening them; this is concerning.
Although individuals must be vaccinated or provide a negative test result to access campus, a test taken within 7 days is not an accurate measure of whether someone is infectious; the Delta variant has a 4-day incubation period. We now have studies indicating that vaccinated individuals can carry and spread the virus. CUNY and the Graduate Center must do more to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19 on campus, by using multiple layers of protection as recommended by the CDC. We need improved ventilation and reduced density and universal masking and vaccination and testing to keep our communities safe.
Perhaps most concerning is that the Graduate Center has removed any hard and fast rules from the campus safety plan. Where it once listed restrictions that “will be in place,” it now provides examples of restrictions that “may be in place.” President Garrell’s message states that the plan is “nimble and allows us to adjust building occupancy based on the priorities of health, safety and supporting academic success.” Who is the “us” here? Whose priorities will determine whether to expand or contract in-person research, teaching, and learning activities? How will these decisions be made, and what measures and indicators will be used in evaluating “current conditions”?
We call on the GC administration to institute clear occupancy limits and physical distancing requirements as long as NYC remains at a “high” level of community transmission per CDC data.
We further call on President Garrell to demonstrate a renewed commitment to both shared governance and collective bargaining by engaging faculty, students, and staff on these questions through representative bodies, including Graduate Council and the Central Faculty Steering Committee, the Doctoral and Graduate Students Council, the PSC, and our fellow unions on campus.
P.S. You can see our walkthrough follow-up issues here.