Janet Frick, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, isn’t happy about her institution’s plans for the fall term. As confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus swell to record highs in the state, which reopened most businesses in May, its public institutions of higher education are pressing forward with aggressive return-to-campus plans. In particular, Frick is shocked that the University System of Georgia (USG), the body that oversees the state’s 26 public institutions, appears to have pressured its member institutions into not requiring masks in buildings and classrooms, despite the fact that they are high-risk environments for transmission, and that masks can reduce that transmission substantially.
She’s not alone. Thousands of students, faculty, parents, and other interested parties have signed a petition demanding that Georgia’s state colleges and universities require masks—and that they not prevent students or faculty from working remotely this fall.
The agitation has garnered some attention, but generated few results so far. Confusion has escalated to anger. At the Georgia Institute of Technology, a USG member where I am a tenured professor, some faculty feel betrayed by a drive to return that seems both unconcerned with their welfare and likely to reduce the quality of instruction. Residential students are organizing against housing contracts that seem to prohibit cancellation until after teaching plans are finalized, and international students are expressing feelings of abandonment as visa and travel restrictions bear down on them. Elsewhere in the state and across the nation, faculty and students feel as if they are fighting against their own institutions, which want to pretend everything is normal, rather than collaborating to figure out how to manage the fact that it is not.