Wentworth Faculty Take Vote of No Confidence in President Thompson and Wentworth Administration

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Citing the Wentworth Institute of Technology administration’s unwillingness to address COVID-19 safety concerns and grant reasonable accommodations to high-risk individuals and caregivers, the Institute’s faculty and librarians have taken a vote of no confidence in Institute President Mark Thompson and the Wentworth administration.
 
“As COVID-19 rages out of control, Wentworth faculty and librarians are working tirelessly to continue to teach and support our students, delivering content in ways many of us haven’t done before,” said Greg Sirokman, Professor and the President of the Wentworth Faculty Federation. “But many members of our campus community are at increased risk of severe illness if they are exposed to COVID-19, and many are fulfilling their professional duties while also managing childcare responsibilities or caring for an aging parent.
 
“Along with the Women’s Caucus, the Faculty Federation has been negotiating so that faculty members’ and librarians’ jobs would not be at risk if they declined to put their health and lives at risk in the middle of a pandemic. We particularly emphasized the necessity of accommodations for members in CDC high-risk categories for COVID-19. We also requested scheduling accommodations for faculty and librarians who are primary childcare deliverers,” he said. “Unfortunately, the administration has refused to even negotiate our requests. After months of trying to work with President Thompson and his administration, we have no confidence in their ability to lead our academic community in the midst of this pandemic.”
 
Approximately 80 percent of Wentworth faculty and librarians participated in the vote, administered by the Wentworth Faculty Federation. 95 percent of those voting supported the vote of no confidence.
 
While many universities have announced that they will continue remote teaching in the spring, Wentworth is continuing to require faculty to teach in person during the Spring 2021 semester, and increasing the time required to be spent in person. Faculty say this policy forces them to put their health at unnecessary risk, and puts extreme pressure on parents and caregivers, especially women, who are juggling caregiving responsibilities with their work. 
 
“My preschooler is in daycare for five to six hours on some days, and a half day on two days of the week,” said one member of the Women’s Caucus who asked to remain anonymous. “Because only one child can be checked into the school at a time, drop-off takes about 30 minutes, not including time spent in the car driving. But I also have to coordinate daycare drop-off and pickup with my 2nd grader’s remote school instruction. There is little flexibility in the remote learning schedule and attendance is frequently taken, which means I base my video meeting schedule for work on my 2nd grader’s schedule. As my husband has been labeled an essential employee and is working in-person and full-time since the start of pandemic, all of this scheduling falls on me and it is challenging.
 
“The stress takes its toll mentally and physically,” she continued. “Because young children do require constant supervision and have frequent needs in terms of schooling and everyday function it has significantly impacted my ability to focus. Between balancing children and fitting in work there is no downtime anymore, no time to relax and ‘turn off.’ Teaching has been my number one focus, and I’ve prioritized it above all other commitments, such as research or service. I feel like I can do that, despite the stress and time commitment. I was able to work with my department chair to schedule all online courses this fall. But for me, the big thing that made that possible is that I have colleagues who are covering in-person labs. I am fortunate in that respect, but if more in-person teaching is required, there is no guarantee that we can make it work. My options are limited.”
 
The full text of the vote of no confidence is below:
 
Wentworth Faculty Federation Vote of No Confidence 
 
RESOLVED: The Wentworth Faculty Federation and the faculty and librarians that it represents has voted to express NO CONFIDENCE in the decisions by President Mark Thompson and the Wentworth administration for refusing to grant, or further address, a) the Faculty Federation's request that faculty and librarians who are in or have household members in CDC risk categories for COVID-19 not be required by the Institute to meet with students in person in Spring 2021; and b) the Women's Caucus requests in their letters dated September 8, 2020 and October 22, 2020 that faculty and librarians who are primary care deliverers be given scheduling accommodations.
 
WHEREAS:
  • The scientific and statistical facts of the COVID-19 pandemic are undeniable, especially to those at a university such as Wentworth that deals in scientific, statistical and other facts.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic affects people in every country worldwide, and has had a disproportionate impact on the communities that surround the Institute.
  • Even in places across the world where responsible, best-practice efforts have been made to curb exposure, cases and deaths continue to rise.
  • People of every age are contracting COVID-19.
  • The CDC has identified 10 factors that result in increased risk of severe illness for people of any age who are exposed to COVID-19. It further identifies 12 additional factors that initial research indicates result in increased risk of severe illness for people of any age who are exposed to COVID-19.
  • Many who contract COVID-19 unwittingly pass it on to more vulnerable people.
  • For many victims of COVID-19, survival brings terrible respiratory and other health-related consequences that are only beginning to be understood.
  • The rate of hospitalizations in the US is presently 217 per 100,000 as of November 7, 2020.
  • The number of COVID-19 related deaths in the US as of November 17, 2020 is 248,000.
  • The rate of 33.2 cases per 100,000 in Boston.
  • 81% of ICU beds in Boston are occupied as of November 16th, 2020.
  • Deaths in Boston are presently 889 as of November 17, 2020.
  • It is anticipated that rates will continue to climb throughout the winter of 2020/2021.
  • 1 in 4 women have had to leave their positions due to the pandemic. This is caused by the fact that women are primarily the caregivers in families and cannot leave the home due to child-care concerns and/or risk factors caused by the pandemic.
  • People of color disproportionately have had adverse outcomes leading to death from COVID-19.
  • Many organizations have announced that they will continue remote work in Spring 2021, including in the past two weeks the US Federal Reserve Bank.
  • Many universities have announced that they will continue remote teaching in Spring 2021, including in the past two weeks Harvard University.
  • Wentworth has the technology, and faculty have the experience, to teach courses remotely.
  • Libraries across the country are serving their communities remotely.
  • The majority of school districts that faculty and librarians live in are teaching remotely or in a hybrid model.
  • The Institute is nevertheless continuing to require faculty to teach in person and increasing the time spent in person this Spring 2021.
  • The Institute has been asked to engage in bargaining, but has instituted policies without reaching agreement with the Federation and not actually bargaining the issues.
  • Both the Faculty Federation and the Women’s Caucus met jointly with the Institute to request that faculty in-person teaching for Spring 2021 be entirely voluntary, so that no faculty member’s or librarian’s job would be at risk if that person declined to put life at risk; and for scheduling accommodations for faculty and librarians who are primary childcare deliverers. The Institute continues to deny those requests, stating that their refusals are their final answers.
  • The Institute has ignored agreements and as a result, charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board.
  • The Institute refuses to implement a policy using CDC risk factors, placing faculty health and lives at risk.
  • The Institute states that only ADA-related exemptions to being on campus are officially considered; however, those are pre-existing obligations under federal law.
  • Faculty and librarians may hope to seek an individual waiver, but with no official written policy covering such requests, that avenue is of little comfort to faculty who have a CDC (or other) risk factors and may result in discriminatory treatment.
  • The Institute has cut the TIAA-CREF contribution for librarians and health-care contributions of both faculty and librarians.
  • The Institute’s measures to protect the community, faculty, librarians, staff, and students are not foolproof.
  • There have been failures in the COVID-19 tracking of students who live off campus.
  • There have been failures of the CoVerify App that have prevented faculty and librarians from coming to campus.
  • Faculty and librarians are working to deliver the best education to the students of Wentworth.
  • Any potential argument by the administration that online faculty have failed to meet with students are specious: the faculty contract already requires faculty to meet with students, and violations of that requirement should impact the violator, not the entire faculty.
  • Any potential argument that other organizations have more money than Wentworth and so can do better remote teaching and staffing is reprehensible, as it implies the importance of balancing a budget by risking faculty and librarian health and well-being. It is anticipated in advance and hoped that no such arguments will ever be advanced by the Institute, no matter how existential the threat from COVID-19.
  • Members of our community need the ability to work remotely to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the greater community.
  • President Thompson and the Wentworth administration have shown a lack of leadership in the midst of a pandemic by failing to account for the effects of the pandemic on faculty and librarians.