‘It’s better than nothing’: Science professors share concerns about effectiveness of university COVID-19 protocols

Professors’ reactions vary from reluctant acceptance to displeasure when it comes to face coverings, vaccines and in-person classes.

Ma. Emilia Santander, Contributing Writer

There’s no consensus among science professors regarding the university’s response to the pandemic. Some believe the university is doing the best it can and others believe its efforts are not enough. 

Florida Atlantic University’s Health and Safety Plan (COVID-19) states that everyone is “expected” to wear face coverings independently of vaccination status. 

Faculty members had a variety of responses about masks being mandated or optional. Vicki Sarajedini, an astronomy professor, stated that she thought it “would not be helpful” to have a mask mandate 

“I don’t think requiring [face coverings] will have a big impact,” Sarajedini said. “Unfortunately, there is so much about this virus we don’t understand. It does seem it’s gonna do what it’s gonna do in places regardless.”

Wolfgang Tichy, a physics professor, expressed his disapproval that masks are only “expected” in campus buildings. 

“I think they should have decided to do everything that is possible to keep people safe and to do everything to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.

Senior instructor of mathematical science, Barry Booton, stated that he had no problem with masks being optional and added that if professors wished to require masks, they would not be able to because “the university policy is that masks are expected, but the governor has an executive order that we can’t demand masks.”

FAU’s vaccine incentive program began on Aug. 30, encouraging staff, faculty and students to get vaccinated in exchange for a $150 gift card. While vaccines are free and available in the listed locations on the university’s Coronavirus Update page, getting the gift card requires a few more steps.

While some professors expressed that the vaccine incentive is a viable option, they also said it is not an effective one.

“It’s better than nothing,” Tichy stated. “I think the university should have a vaccine mandate. Everybody here should be vaccinated, that’s my opinion. Scientifically, that would be the best thing to do and I think the reason they are not doing it is simply politics.”

 Nwadiuto Esiobu, professor of biological science, gave a clear “no” when asked if she thought the incentive was increasing the number of people getting vaccinated.

Sarajedini commented that it might vary depending on the person’s reason for not getting vaccinated previously, such as waiting to see the people’s reaction to the new vaccine, but “if your reason is that you just don’t want to be told what to do, then it won’t have an impact.”

Going back to in-person classes has brought back many university experiences that were unavailable due to the pandemic, such as the Bonfire Music Festival. While many changes have been welcomed by both students, staff, and faculty, professors still have concerns.

Tichy had doubts about the prevention measures the university would take and wanted to know how the administration would “guarantee a safe reopening.” Tichy proceeded to contact Provost Bret Danilowicz on Sept. 30 2020 with questions regarding air exchange in the building, mask requirement, and testing requirements.

He explained that he received answers at the end of October 2020 from Assistant Provost James Capp and Director of Emergency Management Jaeson Weber.

Tichy said that the answers had not been satisfactory. “I concluded that decisions about face-to-face classes are not made based on science or safety, but rather on political expediency, such as pleasing our governor.”

Professors said that they had not been consulted regarding the decision to go back to in-person classes.

“Certainly not me. In fact, we were told we have no options,” Esiobu said. “Students have flexible options but only a certain group of faculty who are old or sick.”

 “It was a university decision, but there might have been some guidance from the state,” Booton said. 

Tichy said that the decision to go back to in-person classes was done by the administration, pending on students’ attendance and reaction. 

“I was never consulted on anything. In fact, we only got an email saying: ‘in the fall it will pretty much look like before the pandemic’ and that’s the information that came to us,” Tichy said. “We were a little bit surprised and many of us were not really happy about it.”

 

Ma. Emilia Santander is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet @ME20SB