Some professors with COVID-19 health issues criticize in-person teaching mandate, accommodation policy

In a survey of hundreds of teachers, a third said they wanted the option to teach remotely due to health concerns.


While many at Yale have gratefully returned to face-to-face training, not everyone is so happy.

In a Faculty of Arts and Science survey this month of 551 faculty members, nearly a third said they would prefer not to teach in person, with some expressing concern over what they called a lack of housing for teachers who are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

Currently, if an instructor feels their medical condition warrants additional accommodations for in-person instruction, that instructor must submit an application and medical documents to the Office of Institutional Equity and Accessibility. The office then works with the instructor’s supervisor to determine if an accommodation is appropriate. In interviews with the News, four senior professors criticized the OIEA for its lack of support in obtaining permission to teach online courses due to health concerns regarding in-person teaching. While some expressed frustration at the rejected applications, others who were granted permission to teach virtually also criticized the policy as a whole and called for greater transparency.

Sterling professor of American studies and history, Matthew Jacobson, received an accommodation, but expressed dissatisfaction with the process and requirements for obtaining an exemption to teach online.

“I am indeed quite angry with the policy as a whole,” Jacobson said. “Many people with legitimate safety concerns and concerns do not appear to be eligible for the exemption. My main concern is that the exemption threshold for in-person teaching is quite high and the grounds for exemption accepted by the University are quite narrow.

Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart wrote to the News that there have been no documented cases of transmission of COVID-19 in a classroom of masked occupants, adding that “tThe university has taken important health and safety measures to help keep the community healthy.

Stephanie Spangler, COVID-19 University Coordinator, Elizabeth Conklin, Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity, Accessibility and Belonging at OIEA, and Kathryn Lofton, Dean of Humanities at FAS, all declined multiple requests for comment.

The FAS survey, conducted from August 30 to September 3 and obtained by the News when it was published on September 20 in the FAS, shows that 33% of the teachers questioned would prefer to teach entirely at a distance, while 16% would prefer to teach from a distance. hybrid way of in-person and virtual instruction. Additionally, according to the survey, only 20 percent of faculty had no medical concerns about in-person teaching, while 56 percent of respondents responded that they were “somewhat” to “extremely” concerned.

“We will continue to advocate for flexibility in the teaching methods of teachers,” an email Monday from Valerie Horsley, President of the FAS Senate, read to FAS. “The administration communicated that the policy of in-person teaching is an ideal and that the University allows you to manage the classroom to improve the pedagogy and education of your students, with the understanding that distance education casual is an inevitable component of educational diversity, even in non-COVID times. ”

John Bargh, professor of psychology and cognitive science and management, said the current situation has not been handled well. He said the add / drop period has resulted in overcrowded classrooms, inability to social distancing, and close contact with teachers, which is especially severe in classrooms lacking ventilation.

Peart explained that Yale’s facility operations and environmental health and safety “carefully assessed the ventilation systems in all occupied buildings, including all classroom spaces.” She added that all “necessary modifications” have been made, including “improved filtration, extended run times of air systems and modifications to air distribution systems to allow for high levels of air supply. outdoor air to serve spaces and optimize work environments “. Additionally, for spaces without mechanical ventilation and windows, ventilation has been “improved, or EHS has recommended limited occupancy in these areas.”

Acting on his concerns, Bargh applied to teach online for this semester, but his request was denied. Bargh, who has had health issues related to his respiratory system for the past four years, said his request was denied without “reason or explanation.”

Horsley’s email to faculty on Monday said, “We are advocating for an improved accommodation process for future terms, if necessary, as well as an appeal process for faculty who feel the University no was not properly aware of their concerns about in-person teaching. “

Katie Trumpener, Emily Sanford professor of comparative literature and professor of English, is herself immunocompromised and has been able to obtain permission to teach online. Still, she expressed concern for the rest of the community.

“Do I wish all the teachers had a lot more choices and a lot more to say?” Trumpener wrote in an email to the News. “Of course! I would also have liked that all students had the opportunity to continue their education off campus, with online courses; there is still a lot of pandemic.

According to the University’s Workplace Orientation FAQ page, OEIA will work with the appropriate supervisor to determine if a workplace accommodation – such as remote working or a larger classroom – is possible. if it determines that the instructor’s medical condition counts as a disability. Peart explained that the final decision to approve remote work for faculty members rests with the dean, and the OIEA can meet with the dean or his delegate to explore other options – including reallocation of classrooms. classroom, larger classrooms or better ventilated spaces – for accommodation, depending on the situation.

Peart wrote that “the ADA does not require accommodation that would fundamentally alter the role of the faculty member or place an undue burden on the school.”

Yet Jacobson said he raised his concerns with the administration, but that they “did not [been] responded adequately.

“The administration talks a lot about ‘community’, but the mandate of in-person teaching is coercive whether or not one accepts the university’s public health claims,” ​​said Jacobson.

Lisa Pfefferle, professor of chemical and environmental engineering at C. Baldwin Sawyer, wrote in an e-mail to the News that “many of us older faculty members who suffer from numerous health problems are very afraid of Yale in-person classes for all “.

Pfefferle, who teaches online for two to four weeks, said his concerns also took into account the potential limited effectiveness vaccine for the elderly. She cited an August 18 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report suggesting that the efficacy of the Delta variant vaccine in nursing home residents was as low as 53%.

“I’m concerned that our cohort may see deaths and certainly serious illnesses,” Prefferle said.

The FAS Senate has 22 members.

Madison Hahamy contributed reporting.


Philip Mousavizadeh covers the Jackson Institute. He is a freshman at Trumbull College studying ethics, politics, and economics.

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