University of Oklahoma students are set to move on campus Tuesday, but staff and faculty are demanding OU administrators move classes entirely online.
"I don't want to go to virtual memorials for my high-risk colleagues that have already been made to return to campus," said Bailey Hoffner, an OU staff member.
"People will die if OU reopens," said Mauve Kay, another OU staff member.
Concerns about a possible catastrophe on campus brought faculty and staff out to protest Monday ahead of the school's opening.
University officials said they've approved most requests to move classes online.
However, that's not an option for everyone.
"Staff talk about the most essential workers for a functional campus are housing, food services, facility, and custodial staff, are given no option to work from home," said Kay.
Protest organizers called on OU administrators to move all classes online, stop layoffs, and give time and a half for essential staff.
The university was able to avoid layoffs during the previous school year. But this year cuts are on the table if classes move online.
Protesters also want OU President Joseph Harroz and other top administrators to take the brunt before faculty and staff.
In a statement to News 9 a university spokesperson said, "While President Harroz has indicated that those in executive roles and the highest-paid positions would be among the first to take pay cuts, this would not be enough to avoid necessary furloughs and layoffs for those whose positions are not necessary in an online-only environment."
"The people making the life and death decisions are the ones who are wealthy and safe," said Kay.
The university also said there are no guarantees, and there might come a time when the virus spreads to the point that the university has no other choice but go entirely online.
The full statement from OU spokeswoman Kesha Keith is below.
This is an anxiety-ridden time for all, including our University community. Since the beginning of the pandemic, OU has made safety its top priority. The University was among the first in the region to go online after spring break; mandated masks before any city in Oklahoma; and is a national leader in on-campus safe-return preparations, investing millions of dollars in such measures. All actions and decisions taken are based upon science and with the primary guidance of our OU Chief COVID Officer, Dr. Dale Bratzler.
Going immediately and fully online has very real implications. Importantly, the power of the OU degree is greatest when delivered in-person. We exist for our students and many would not be able to complete their degrees without in-person classes. Further, going fully online would have a major impact on OU staff, particularly those with direct in-person, student-facing responsibilities. All OU full-time employees were retained after spring break, but this would no longer be financially sustainable if OU were to extend fully online through the fall semester. While President Harroz has indicated that those in executive roles and the highest-paid positions would be among the first to take pay cuts, this would not be enough to avoid necessary furloughs and layoffs for those whose positions are not necessary in an online-only environment.
Importantly, over the past several weeks, OU reached out to all faculty and staff and asked if they felt they needed to work away from campus this semester. For faculty, 97% of such requests were granted and the remaining 3% are being worked on. For staff, because of the extensive use of telecommuting, there have been only seven requests that weren’t granted, as such work simply required them to be in-person. Finally, University leaders are also actively working to produce solutions and resources for working parents who find themselves challenged with working full-time and bearing the responsibility of child care and/or virtual learning for their school-age children.
Common sense dictates that there are no guarantees, and there might come a time when the virus spreads to the point that the University has no other choice but to go fully online. When that time comes, OU will respond appropriately. Until then, the University will keep campus open as long as it is safe do so.