A Tale of Two Governors

Texas and Florida are the epicenters of the Delta strain Covid outbreak right now. Both governors have outlawed mask and vaccine requirements for publically funded institutions, which includes K-12 schools and public universities. I teach at one such institution.

My university does important research on Covid, yet the leadership refuses to protect students, employees, and staff from possible infection, disability, and death. We have been told that we must return to campus and teach in crowded classrooms, even if we live with unvaccinated children or immunocompromised family members. Students want online classes. Teachers want online classes. Staff wants flexible work arrangements for safety. No one cares. The university has not polled or requested any information from any of the affected stakeholders, and the president, most recently known for keeping a sports song that originated in minstrel shows and booting band members who don’t want to play it (against the recommendation of pretty much everyone) has decided that our fates are unimportant in the greater scheme of things. The greater scheme of things is, apparently, not pissing off our genocidal governor and making more money off the backs of students and underpaid workers, regardless of risk.

One of my students committed suicide last semester. While the university doesn’t publically share the number of suicides, I know anecdotally that many more students took their own lives. Many students lost family and friends to Covid, experienced deep personal trauma, and had severe mental health crises. Mental health resources in Austin have been maxed out for over a year. I spent a lot of time last year compiling mental health resources for students and sharing them widely, for what little good it did. Through all of this instructors and TAs also experienced trauma and loss while trying to adapt to student needs and university demands.

The current situation is untenable and deeply unethical. I know we are not the only university experiencing this; many of my colleagues around the country have been talking about similar situations with their work. So just for the record:

Our lives are not expendable. Our work is not expendable. Our students’ lives are not expendable. Grow a backbone and follow the science you make so much goddamn money off of and protect us from unethical laws instead of pretending that the inevitable illness, disability, and death is acceptable. It is not.

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