Symptomatic and want to teach online? Steer clear of Cal Poly Humboldt

One professor stands up against leadership after not being allowed to teach over zoom while facing COVID-19 symptoms and exposure.
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by Liam Gywnn

Dr. Christopher Aberson came into contact with COVID-19 the weekend before he was supposed to teach. He requested the school let him teach over zoom and his request was denied. The school would not let him switch his modality despite the Omicron surge and the numerous COVID-19 cases reported on campus.

“I was told I was not authorized to change modality. After several emails, clarification came that I could not move online. I have symptoms. I am well enough to teach. Not allowed to,” said Dr. Aberson.

Dr. Aberson is the Professor of Psychology at Cal Poly Humboldt and came into contact with the virus after one of his son’s friends tested positive. He claims that this issue is larger than his individual case.

“My issue with the surge has and continues to be that faculty who agreed to teach in person are not being allowed to change to online. Faculty agreed to teach in person at times when it seemed we had gotten over the hump and were headed toward a better situation,” said Dr. Aberson in an email, he continued. “In both the fall and spring semesters, as I understand it, most requests to change to online were denied. Both semesters began during surges.”

Dr. Aberson has been outspoken about a number of issues on campus and believes that could be playing into why he wasn’t allowed to teach online.

“I have been outspoken about under-compensation of chair duties — it is a full-time job but during the summer and other off times, we are grossly under-compensated for our time. Also, campus safety and working conditions during both the delta and omicron surges,” said Dr. Aberson.

The California Faculty Association (CFA) negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with campus administration regarding teaching during COVID-19. The document was signed by CFA and Cal Poly Humboldt management. Dr. Aberson presented a passage from the MOU that explicitly supports his position.

“During the time that an employee may be waiting for an appointment or for testing results every effort should be made for them to be able to work remotely,” states the MOU.

Prior to Dr. Aberson’s situation, the CFA had already made an official statement addressing the administration and their lack of leniency.

“No faculty member should be forced to work in conditions that put themselves or their loved ones at risk, especially when there are alternatives,” states a press release provided by the CFA.

CFA Humboldt president Loren Cannon still supports this idea and thinks the administration needs to be more flexible in situations like Dr. Aberson’s.

“We have urged that Administration approve all such requests for temporary, or sometimes permanent change in modality,” said Cannon.

Cannon acknowledges that for some cases transitioning to online can be difficult, however for many other classes transitioning online for a week or two is relatively easy.

“I believe that at this time, as we still are not ‘in the clear’ of this incredible health crisis, we need to trust each other and make decisions that recognize the complexity of individual context,” said Cannon.

Leadership has yet to make an official statement regarding the MOU breach and has also failed to respond to our request for an interview.

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