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UofL union delivers petition for better COVID-19 safety

Liz Schlemmer

The University of Louisville chapter of United Campus Workers of Kentucky (UCW) has delivered a petition with nearly 1,500 signatures from staff, faculty and community members to University of Louisville Interim President Lori Gonzales, seeking better protections against COVID-19 as the disease spreads rapidly through the community.

University administration announced days ago that in-person classes for the new semester would start according to schedule Monday.

“At least within the groups that I’ve been talking with, a lot of us found that really concerning,” Nathan Schimpf, a graduate assistant and part of the organizing committee for the local group said.

Their group started the petition, Keep All Cardinals Safe Friday. They’re demanding the administration allow instructors to move courses online and employees to work remotely if possible.

“We are being told that students learn better in person,” Andrea Olinger, Associate Professor of English and UCW member said in a news release. “Thus classes need to stay in-person. As the petition shows, though, students want to go online during this spike. We are asking for nothing more than flexibility while omicron is running rampant.”

Schimpf added that the university’s plan for in-person learning now, when cases are at their highest city-wide, is much different than its initial response at the start of the pandemic.

“At the very beginning, U of L took a much firmer stance and kind of pushed everyone remote,” they said. “I know that wasn’t ideal for anyone. But I remember feeling cared about then. Over the course of time that’s kind of eroded a bit and it feels like that’s not something that the university prioritizes anymore.”

The group is giving Gonzales until 5 p.m. Thursday to “take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students at UofL.” They will meet Thursday night to discuss further steps if that is not met.

Schimpf said they were glad to see the campus community and beyond standing together for everyone’s safety.

“It’s amazing to me how quickly this has gotten attention from the U of L community and from Louisville at large,” they said. “And I think that just goes to show how much this public health issue is beyond the scope of just the university.”

In a statement sent to WFPL, university spokesman John Karman said the decision to return to in-person learning was made in the best interest of students.

“Because the science shows that classroom learning is safe and more effective, we feel it is vital to provide the best educational experience possible for our students,” he wrote.

He said any faculty concerns should be discussed with department chairs, who may consider any requests for changes on a case-by-case basis and added that the university encourages “continuity of instruction plans” in case an instructor should need to quarantine or isolate.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced on Wednesday a new record with 11,233 new daily cases statewide and a positivity rate over 27%.

Louisville health officials announced this week more than 16,000 cases over the past week.

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