July 27, 2020
The Honorable Governor Ron DeSantis
Plaza Level 05, The Capitol
400 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001
We hope this letter finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy during this most recent surge of the pandemic in Florida.
First of all, we want to thank you for your decisive actions in March, transitioning Florida’s State University System and the Florida College System to remote learning. Your directives potentially saved the lives of thousands of students, faculty, staff, administrators, and vulnerable community neighbors of our Institutions of Higher Education.
We recognize that the Board of Governors’ Blueprint on Safe Reopening needed to be composed in haste, so we endeavored to add to the discussion by assembling a broad-based Higher Ed Reopening Task Force and sharing more detailed plans with you and with college and university presidents. We also understand your decision to allow universities and colleges to each develop their own reopening plans. While we appreciate all of these efforts, our faculty, students, their parents, and community members are concerned that these plans were developed 6 to 8 weeks ago, when COVID-19 conditions in Florida were decidedly different and no longer reflect our state’s current pandemic conditions.
As of the second week of July, Florida had an average of over 10,000 infections per day — about 1 infection per 10 seconds — and over 100 deaths per day. On July 16, Florida recorded 156 COVID-19 deaths— one death every 9.3 minutes — during that 24-hour reporting period. We have lost over 5,000 Floridians so far. If Florida were a country, our daily reported cases would be in the Top 4 worldwide, just behind the U.S., India, and Brazil. With the continued rise in cases, Florida is now considered the global COVID-19 hotspot. So far in the United States, over 4 million people have been confirmed as infected, and there have been almost 147,000 deaths. These are not just numbers; they are the loved ones of many and, in some cases, the lone breadwinners of their families.
We love face-to-face teaching and miss our students, but, as much as our faculty and students fervently wish to get back to our classrooms, the steadily rising COVID-19 infections and deaths warn against it. We all want to reopen our campuses but, more importantly, for them to remain open in the long term. Our students, faculty, staff, and many administrators are gravely concerned about early re-openings; we all deserve safe learning and working conditions. If our institutions become hot-spots due to early re-openings, closing campuses mid-term once again would do real harm, mentally, physically, and economically. Bringing faculty and students back to college and university campuses in the fall may achieve a Pyrrhic victory, at best
Assuming colleges and universities follow their declared safety protocols and measures meticulously (which is not feasible in our view), many of these plans do not adequately address basic concerns. Here are just a few of the protocols which are not in place everywhere:
Sick Students: What happens if an infected student attends classes? Will every student in each of those classes be quarantined for 2+ weeks, along with the professors? What support will be available to the students in those classes? What happens to the students in those faculty members’ other classes? What support will be available to them?
Sick Faculty: What happens if a faculty member or graduate teaching assistant is infected? How will those classes be managed and what support will be available to the students in those classes?
What is the protocol for re-housing those who share on-campus living spaces (such as dormitories or apartments) with an infected student or their family members (in family housing)?
What are the protocols when a staff member or an administrator who has been in contact with faculty and/or students becomes infected? Testing, tracking, and tracing protocols are inadequate or non-existent.
How will the institutions prepare for the inevitable lawsuits arising from on-campus COVID-19 transmission?
Here is our most grave concern: the death rate for the college-age population is estimated to be about 0.2 percent, and the hospitalization rate is estimated to be 2.5 percent (per May 2020 data- it may be higher now). As our forty public Institutions of Higher Education in Florida serve about 1 million students, are we willing to risk the deaths of 2,000 students, and willing to hospitalize 25,000 more? Are you willing to risk their futures? And what about the more mature faculty, staff, and administrators whose mortality rate is even higher?
Reopening colleges and universities will be an important part of Florida’s economic recovery when it happens, but creating more uncertainty by opening and then closing campuses would aggravate an already uncertain situation. Therefore, we strongly urge you to issue directives to transition all of Florida’s Institutions of Higher Education to remote learning (similar to your March directives) until public health conditions improve and we can assure students, parents, and members of the higher education community that academic excellence can safely continue on our campuses. Until that time, we assure you that the education of Florida’s future leaders will continue to achieve the consistently high standards we educators have always set for ourselves.
Should you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to us. We are here to assist you and our state in achieving excellence in higher education as well as the economic health of our state.
Karen Morian, PhD. President, United Faculty of Florida
Jaffar Ali Shahul Hameed, PhD. First Vice President, United Faculty of Florida