Open Letter: Stop gaslighting us

Micheal Innis-Jimenez, Guest Columnist

This open letter was sent on Thursday, Sep. 3 to UA System Chancellor Finis St. John; members of the UA Board of Trustees; UA President Stuart Bell; Dr. Richard Friend, dean of the UA College of Community Health Sciences; The UA System Health and Safety Task Force; Dr. Selwyn Vickers, dean of UAB Medical School; and Dr. Mike Saag of UAB Medical School’s infectious disease division. As of Friday night, the author has yet to receive a response.

The letter is reprinted in its entirety below, with a few minor edits for CW style.

Dear Chancellor St. John, Members of the UA Board of Trustees, President Bell, Dr. Friend, UA System Health and Safety Task Force, Dean Selwyn Vickers, and Dr. Mike Saag:

After reading the Sep. 2 UA System Press Release posted on the UA System COVID-19 Dashboard, I learned that UA administrators, with the explicit endorsement of the Health and Safety Task Force and the implied support of Drs. Vickers and Saag, have decided that the best thing to do at this point is to keep students and faculty on campus despite the high-community-spread level and danger for anyone in Tuscaloosa. This shows that those of you addressed above are negligent, irresponsible and unethical. It shows your lack of genuine concern for the wellbeing of UA students, employees, their families, the residents of Alabama and those of every student home community throughout the United States.

As late as last Friday, Dr. Friend and UA administrators boasted about the fact that the vast majority of students who tested positive went home, allowing for more isolation capacity on campus despite the over 1,000 positive cases. He did not point out, though, that it is UA policy for off-campus, COVID-positive students to fend for themselves and isolate off-campus. Emails to the UA campus community by senior leadership encouraged anyone who was uncomfortable in Tuscaloosa to go home and learn all-online at the same time that faculty were told they could not choose to move their courses online. The media and concerned faculty pointed out the fact that already allowing over 700 students infected with COVID-19 was irresponsible and negligent on their part. Instead of pivoting to a workable solution in the best health and safety of those in harm’s way, you have “doubled-down,” suddenly learning of the “new” research that traveling while positive or suspected to be positive with COVID-19 is a bad idea. That is how the press release reads, and it leads me to believe that you are either not telling the truth and willfully deceiving everyone concerned OR are so behind the science and national health “best practices” on traveling while infected or possibly infected that you ALL should resign in the best interest of those you were hired or appointed to serve. I remind you that in your current positions, your primary responsibility is to the HEALTH and SAFETY of students, employees and the tax-paying public.

In order to protect the health of all involved and in the best interest of the community, I request that you do the following immediately:

  1. Move all instruction online.
  2. Test ALL students for COVID-19 at university expense.
  3. Start a staggered move-out (over three weeks) of all students who test negative. Recommend that they isolate at home for two weeks and notify the receiving state’s department of health that they are traveling from a known hotspot.
  4. Isolate ALL students who test positive (regardless of if they live on or off campus) in university isolation space at university expense. This includes meals and basic living accessories including furniture, microwave oven and legitimate isolation from other students and non-medical employees. Students should stay in isolation until a doctor deems they are no longer infectious.
  5. If COVID-19 positive students refuse to remain in isolation and/or their parents pick them up, assist them in packing in a way that minimizes the danger to others and immediately notify the receiving state’s department that the COVID positive and possibly infectious student is returning home.

Please take these steps immediately in order to protect the health of all of us in Tuscaloosa and home communities.

Michael Innis-Jimenez is a professor in the Department of American Studies and runs TheUASentinel, a blog intended “to hold UA System and campus administrators responsible for their actions and inactions.”