NC State’s administrators have failed their workers and students by continuing to actively choose against implementing stronger COVID safety protocols such as requiring and supplying free higher quality masks to all students and workers, requiring vaccination to work or study on campus, or moving classes online during surges, instead opting for a false sense of normalcy.

Other UNC System schools took the dangers of the Omicron variant more seriously by shifting to remote schooling, as UNC Charlotte did for the first two weeks of classes, or by offering and requiring higher quality masks on-campus in order to protect their workers and students, as NC Central is doing. In contrast, NC State’s Chancellor and Provost recklessly pushed ahead with reopening, in clear disregard for our health and safety. By pressuring departments to discourage or outright prohibit moving classes online, Chancellor Woodson and Provost Arden helped spread and continue to help spread COVID, worsening this pandemic, and endangering their workers and students and our friends and family members, in particular those who are chronically ill, disabled, and neurodivergent.

In just the first two weeks of this semester, the university’s COVID-positive rate for the academic year nearly tripled despite the university boasting a high vaccination rate. This put those of us who are chronically ill and disabled or who are ineligible for the vaccines at significant risk and continues to do so. Moreover, this risk doesn’t stop with us. It also puts our communities at risk by exposing our children, close relatives, and anyone else who comes into contact with us. Those of us who are at risk have been left to choose between safety and education, between health and employment.

While the Chancellor and Provost work safely from their home offices, they insist that we—the actual workers of NC State University—sit in lecture halls with dozens to hundreds of students for an hour or more where social distancing is not possible. In his January 14th message, the Chancellor claimed that our safety was dependent on our personal responsibility, but we cannot exercise our personal responsibility if we lack the choice between in-person and online classes, especially while the Chancellor maintains lax safety standards. It is the outrageous working conditions he has pushed onto us, not our personal lives, which has put us most at risk. NC State’s administrators reveal their callousness when, instead of using a viable alternative, such as moving classes online during surges and requiring high-quality masks, they require us to work in conditions perfectly suited for spreading a potentially deadly disease that leaves many of its survivors with chronic, long-term illness.

NC State University leaders should prioritize the health and safety of workers, students, and our communities. They should focus on safely transitioning back to in-person schooling instead of trying to create a false sense of normalcy. It is time to take responsible actions and stop contributing to new case records in Raleigh and a strained medical system. While we all have a part to play, as the leader of North Carolina’s largest university, it is within Chancellor Woodson’s power to mitigate the spread of a highly contagious, vaccine-resistant COVID variant among workers, students, our families and our communities. He must take the necessary actions to protect the Wolfpack community against this disease.

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