AAUP procedures protect professors should they contract COVID-19

Going into this semester, there has been an added concern about the health and safety of faculty members teaching face-to-face classes. With COVID-19 still a threat, many have been wondering what will happen should a professor get sick.

According to Interim Associate Provost Anne Hitt, if any faculty member were to contract the virus, the procedure will be in line with those already in place should anyone become unable to finish teaching their course. 

“It’s expected that if someone is sick that’s a faculty [member] that they contact their class for one, but they should also be contacting their chair of the department,” Hitt said. “And it’s expected that the chair will have someone else, help fill in for that person, so that the class is covered, and the chair will find the best person in their department to cover the course. This is standard.” 

While all situations will be handled on a case-by-case situation, departments will need to have back up plans in place should there be any long term illnesses among faculty.

“If a person is going to be out for a long time, then what would have to happen is we would try to find [someone to fill in],” Hitt said. “We might have to hire somebody from outside, or more likely, we would have to pay somebody a stipend to teach the course.” 

According to Hitt, a faculty member did fall ill last spring, so the university has already dealt with this situation. In that case, the class paused for the time being with all students receiving an Incomplete (I) grade until the professor was well enough to return to instruction later in the semester. Should a student fall ill, they will also receive an Incomplete grade and finish the semester when they have recovered. 

“If you get an incomplete you’re not paying for [the class] again, you just get to finish it up, and you’ve got a timeframe to finish it up,” Hitt said.

The faculty union, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), has these illness procedures detailed in the contract agreed upon between them and Oakland University. 

The current AAUP contract agreement was authored in 2015 and set to expire in August 2020, however the AAUP and OU agreed on a one-year extension to postpone the timely bargaining process to next summer. The AAUP and OU chose to use this summer to focus on COVID-19 and fall planning, and will renegotiate the contract when it expires in August 2021. 

The current contract states, “Faculty members not on layoff status who are unable to work because of illness, injury, or disability (including but not limited to disabilities relating to pregnancy) shall receive a full-time leave of absence … Faculty members not on layoff status and unable to work because of illness, injury, or disability shall notify Oakland promptly.”

All professors who are teaching face-to-face classes had the option to do so, according to Amy Pollard, OU-AAUP executive director and English special lecturer. 

“Faculty were given the complete option [for in-person or virtual teaching],” she said. “One thing the administration did really well as soon as COVID[-19] happened in March, and we started talking about summer and then into fall faculty had the complete option to choose whether they wanted to teach face to face, whether they wanted to teach fully online.”

With 291 faculty members teaching classes in person this fall, it was important to ensure everyone was following the safety precautions to prevent the spread. 

“It’s hard, I think, for students to recognize that faculty are really appreciative of them, and what I see on campus, everyone’s had their masks on,” Pollard said. “All the courses that I know people had today, the faculty set all the classes ran really smoothly, really well on campus. I think the important message that we want to get across to students is that sense of gratitude for them.”