LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Following two and a half weeks of campaigning by University of Louisville students, staff and faculty, changes are being made regarding the university's spring semester guidelines.
The university's chapter of the United Campus Workers union said UofL leaders have conceded to some of the union's demands made in an online petition created to protect the community's health and safety.
UofL spokesperson John Karman said that the union's allegations of concession are entirely false.
The university announced Jan. 21 that a 1% salary increase would go into effect on March 1 for all faculty and staff employed on or before the start of the new year. It is similar to the prior salary increase from August 2021.
Karman said the increase was included last summer in the fiscal year 2022 budget, contingent on the financial performance of the university.
"While we did not meet the enrollment target we had set to trigger this increase, we feel it's vital to provide this compensation, particularly as we enter the third year of the COVID pandemic," Interim President Lori Gonzalez wrote in an email to students and staff.
Then on Tuesday, Jan. 25, the university sent an email to faculty and staff clarifying that more flexibility would be available for those who wish to work remotely.
Interim Provost Gerry Bradley said the university's Emergency Temporary Leave Guidelines have been updated to reflect the current circumstances.
"Faculty are expected to work with their department chairs and staff with their supervisors when illnesses or other possible work interruptions arise," Karman said.
Bradley said faculty and staff can send their work from home requests to their supervisors for approval. If they feel their concerns aren't being met, they can contact Bradley or UofL HR's Employee Relations Team respectively.
"Our campaign for COVID safety is winning because we are acting and organizing together," the UWC said in a statement.
"Without these direct actions, Interim President Gonzalez and Board Chair Mary Nixon would not have backtracked on denying this small raise, let alone on granting faculty and staff the flexibility they need," the union statement said.
Union leaders said that although these are welcome changes, there is still work to be done.
The UWC said they will continue fighting for a higher salary raise.
"While many of us are excited to see a raise at all, we deserve more than 1% in a year that UofL's revenue increased by 23.2%," the union said. "And those on the front line deserve hazard pay."
Gonzalez said moving forward, university leaders would prioritize a salary increase for faculty and staff in 2022-23 as the operating budget for the fiscal year 2023 is developed.
An online petition asking University of Louisville officials to improve COVID-19 safety measures has gained the support of nearly 1,500 signers.
The petition has six demands, but the UCW said its focus right now is on protecting the community's health.
The group is calling on the university to allow instructors to move their courses online and allow employees who can work remote or partially remote to do so at their discretion. They sent the petition to interim-president Lori Gonzalez on Jan. 12.
"If we are going to espouse our Cardinal principals, especially the Community of Care we need to act like it," graduate teaching assistant Sarah French said.
UofL announced prior to the start of the 2022 spring semester that it would return to in-person instruction despite the rapid spread of COVID-19 cases in Jefferson County.
The university cited its 91% vaccination rate among members of the campus community and the omicron variant's milder cases of infection as some reasons for a return to in-person learning .
In their announcement, the university told faculty that if their course was listed as in-person when students were choosing their schedules, the class must remain in-person.
"Yes there are some students who prefer in person instruction, but we can do online well and we are only asking for some flexibility temporarily," assistant professor of English, Dr. Andrea Olinger said.
Under the current guidelines, the only way an in-person course could go remote would be if the instructor tested positive for COVID-19.
A university spokesperson said that UofL is "committed to in-person learning."
The spokesperson said that in-room instruction has been deemed safe, especially for vaccinated individuals, and students perform better when courses are offered face-to-face.
They said if faculty want to change their course's mode of teaching, the plans must be first discussed and approved on a case-by-case basis by their department's chair. Instructors who change their classes without approval could face discipline from the university.
"Because the science shows that classroom learning is safe and more effective," the spokesperson said. "We feel it is vital to provide the best educational experience possible for our students."
"With omicron being so contagious it just feels really different and scary," Olinger said.
UCW's petition also calls for weekly testing for unvaccinated people instead of monthly, hazard pay for frontline workers, and for the university to provide KN95 masks and at-home test kits.
This week, the university did begin providing two KN95 masks per person at several locations on campus.
“The information is a little murky and to reuse them you need a sufficient number of them to use safety protocols like rotation," French said.
Wednesday, the UCW sent the petition and their demands to the university's administration.
"Just let people do what they need to do to stay safe during this spike, they will be able to be better teachers and students will feel safer too," Olinger said.
The UCW's is requesting a response from interim-president Lori Gonzalez by Jan. 13 at 5 p.m. They said they would be meeting the same night.