VCU professors speak out against administration’s COVID-19 response

Two people without masks work on their laptops on VCU's Monroe Park campus. Photo by Jon Mirador

Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer

With more than 150 cumulative cases of COVID-19 at VCU and no direct statement from the university regarding continued in-person instruction, a group of professors is speaking out. 

VCU chemistry professor Everett Carpenter addressed the Board of Visitors during a meeting on Aug. 26 to express his concerns with coronavirus cases on campus and his disappointment in the treatment of faculty on a COVID-19 advisory board. 

“They described it as an informational session, not an advisory committee, that it was just another in a long list of presentations where administration simply informed faculty of their decisions moving forward, not asking their opinion,” said Carpenter, who serves as president of the VCU American Association of University Professors, or AAUP. 

The university chapter of the AAUP sent a letter to VCU President Michael Rao on Aug. 9, detailing the group’s concern with resuming residential living and in-person classes. 

VCU released multiple statements throughout the summer detailing its return to campus safety plan, which includes social distancing in classrooms, mandatory masks in indoor areas and extra cleaning procedures. A letter from Rao on July 14 stated that VCU will work to care for each community member and emphasized personal accountability in keeping each other safe.

The actions we take in support of each other will speak louder than any of our words,” Rao said.

Ninety VCU students and three employees have COVID-19 as of Sept. 1, according to the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, with 33 residential students in isolation on campus. Since VCU began tracking the virus on campus, 152 students and 13 employees have tested positive. 

Some outside seating on campus remains open, including the tables outside Shafer Court Dining Center. Photo by Jon Mirador

According to the Board of Visitors meeting agenda, 35% of undergraduate classes are in-person, 42.2% are online, 16.7% are blended and 6.2% are hybrid. 

At the Board of Visitors meeting, Carpenter said he wants university leaders to consider the guidance of faculty members when making decisions.

One of the concerns addressed in AAUP’s letter to Rao and Board of Visitors Rector Keith T. Parker was VCU’s patronage of testing company Kallaco LLC. The company conducted all of VCU’s COVID-19 testing for residential students returning to campus. 

The letter states Kallaco was formerly known as Strataclear Solutions LLC and branded itself as a custom computer programming company before switching gears to become a laboratory. The statement from AAUP said this raises “deep concerns.” Kallaco was used by multiple public universities in Virginia, including VCU, George Mason University and the College of William & Mary. 

“I think it’s a little too late to do retesting, but I don’t think it’s too late to sever ties with that lab,” Carpenter said. 

VCU released a letter defending its partnership with Kallaco on Aug. 24. The letter said Kallaco’s tests were authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, and that VCU is working with Kallaco to provide prevalence testing throughout the school year.

“We acknowledge Kallaco is a new technology company; in fact, most companies in this space are new,” the release stated. “They are being held accountable as is any company doing business with VCU and the VCU Health System.”

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