Unions representing full and part-time faculty, staff and teaching assistants at Western Michigan University are calling on the school to do more to stop the spread of COVID-19. They say students need to be able to socially distance in classrooms, instructors need better protective gear, and Western needs to revisit the badging system meant to keep sick students out of class.
At a rally near Sangren Hall today, members of the American Association of University Professors, the Teaching Assistants’ Union, the Professional Instructors Organization and AFSCME Local 1668 rang cowbells and handed out fliers with a link to an online petition.
“Folks are seeming receptive. Most of the students we’re talking to are also concerned about a lot of the same things we are,” said Ian Anderson, an organizer for the PIO and TAU.
Morgan Peltier is a teaching assistant in the history department. Peltier, who’s teaching virtually this semester, says she knows TAs who are working in crowded classrooms.
“It’s impossible to remain six feet apart. It’s impossible to remain more than two feet apart. It is impossible to stop the spread of COVID in those conditions,” she said.
In an email response to a request for comment, University spokeswoman Paula Davis quoted Western’s general COVID policy, which says unvaccinated individuals should “distance up to 6 feet to the degree that is feasible and practical in a given space.”
But the policy also admits that six feet of distancing will not be possible “in many situations.”
Western’s COVID positivity rate was about 2 percent for the week ending last Friday, according to its pandemic dashboard. Davis said the rate has been dropping even while tests increase, and she added that Western’s vaccination rate is now 70 percent “overall.” Davis did not specify the current rate of vaccination for students, which was 64 percent late last week.
At Western, which does not have a vaccine mandate, unvaccinated students are supposed to get tested weekly and show the appropriate virtual “badge” to go to class. But critics say there are gaps.
Public health major Dalis Woods said she couldn’t get a test when she recently lost her student ID. When she was able to resume testing, Woods said she immediately got “green” badge status to go to class. She said that was even though the results of her test didn’t come back for 48 hours.
“If I have COVID and my badge is green and I’m going to class, and then I find out two days later that I’ve been in class and I have COVID and you guys aren’t contact tracing, what is the point?” she asked.