Update: GEO Masking Survey

March 8th, 2023

On February 17th, Chancellor Javier Reyes and the UIC admin announced that UIC would drop its mandatory masking policy in classrooms effective February 20th. Since this sudden change in university policy affected many of our workplaces as TAs, GAs, RAs, and as students, the GEO Steering Committee decided to poll our members to get a sense on how they felt regarding the change in policy. The results on the non-open ended questions are shared below.  In the end, 377 people filled out the survey, which would be roughly 25% of the people we represent in our bargaining unit. Given the sample size, it is probably fair to treat the survey as fairly representative of the broad feelings of the people we represent. 

As one would expect, there are a lot of feelings and thoughts around masks. There were people who were excited about the change in policy, and some who were upset that we were even polling the membership on their thoughts about the policy change. There were people who were unhappy about this change in policy, people who now felt uneasy about returning to work in places they had for a long time expected others around them to be masked. This dichotomy and myriad of opinions is best captured in the first question. There is not quite an even split here, but it was close in terms of the portions of people that answered "yes" or "no." 

The second and third questions were much more straightforward with a super majority of people believing that instructors should be able to continue a masking policy in their individual classrooms and even more people believing that UIC should continue to provide masks for both instructors and students. 

A large portion of respondents also took the time to clarify their thoughts at the end of the survey. Many of these responses expressed confusion with the timing of the decision, such as "Why now?" Many wondered why the university was making the decision so suddenly - "I think this decision came out of nowhere" - and expressed frustration with the little time to plan around this new policy.  Others wondered who the university consulted before making this decision. A good number also expressed that while they were comfortable with the masking policy change (with some even happy about it), they empathized with the people that this decision would affect the most, people who are immunocompromised or live with someone who is immunocompromised.

The mixed survey responses were an indicator that there is no policy that could make everyone happy.  But what was clear was that members wanted clarification on the policy they could set in their classroom, whether masks would continue to be provided, why was this decision made so suddenly, and who was able to have a say in this decision.

GEO and UF requested a joint meeting with the Chancellor, Provost, and other top UIC administrators to get clarification for our members on these points. UIC refused to meet with the two unions together, and would not bring the Chancellor or Provost to this meeting. Regardless, we took the meeting they offered us with a representative from Labor Relations and an Assistant Vice Chancellor at UI Health. Two members of our SC, Marty Heath and Jennifer Vaccaro, met with the university on March 2nd Here are answers to some of the questions that were asked:

1) The university will continue to supply masks at the same places it has been (library and student centers at the very least) through the end of the semester.

2) Instructors can ask their students to mask, but they cannot mandate masks in their classrooms. The university claims that only they can set classroom masking policy.

3) The university claims that they “communicated” with faculty that changes to the mask mandate may occur - through emails and at the Faculty Senate meeting in December. However, when prompted they could not state that faculty and instructors were consulted about what these changes should look like or when they would be enacted. The administrators seemed surprised that instructors would want more than a weekend of notice in advance to plan around a decision affecting an instructor's safety in the workplace. When asked why the policy change was made now, rather than at the end of the semester, the university cited the difficulties some community members have wearing masks and the benefits of returning to “normal” sooner rather than later.

4) The university’s position is that any member who seeks accommodations as a result of this policy change (such as a transition to online instruction) should go through the Office of Access and Equity to claim a Reasonable Employee Accommodation - a process which is inherently linked to medical necessity. This suggestion ignores the inability of this lengthy process to address immediate concerns and excludes members who do not have explicit medical documentation to ‘prove’ their concerns are valid.

If you notice that masks are not being offered in the spaces outlined above or you have questions about the accommodations process, please reach out!

Additionally, note that a group of members who are concerned about this policy change have formed and invite you to attend a Zoom meeting this upcoming Monday, 3/13 at 7pm to discuss the issue further. Please reach out to president@uicgeo.org if you would like the link to that meeting.

Nick Christo and Marty Heath

GEO Co-Presidents