Pandemic Resources: Guidance for Campus Operation

Colleges and universities across the country have faced difficult decisions about whether to reopen their campuses, how to operate safely when they do, and how best to achieve the academic mission both during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its aftermath. The AAUP offers the following guidance on reopening and operating campuses to our chapters, faculty governing bodies, and administrations. 

  • The health and safety of students, faculty, and staff should be the primary consideration in decision making about when to reopen a campus as well as decisions about all aspects of campus operation during the pandemic. Decisions on how to reopen campuses safely should be informed by guidance and data from the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state departments of health.
  • Institutions should provide reasonable accommodations for members of the campus community who have underlying health conditions. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued guidance on COVID-19 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other antidiscrimination laws.
  • Campus administrations should include all affected members of the campus community in decisions about whether to remain open and how best to control the outbreak. In response to growing concern over unilateral actions taken by governing boards and administrations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the AAUP affirms that the fundamental principles and standards of academic governance remain applicable even in the current crisis. Our Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities notes that “the variety and complexity of the tasks performed by institutions of higher education produce an inescapable interdependence among governing board, administration, faculty, students, and others. The relationship calls for adequate communication among these components, and full opportunity for appropriate joint planning and effort.”
  • Decisions related to “such fundamental areas as curriculum, subject matter and methods of instruction, . . . and those aspects of student life which relate to the educational process,” the Statement also points out, are matters in which “the faculty has primary responsibility.” The faculty and academic staff—through their shared governance bodies or, when applicable, their unions—should accordingly participate in decisions related to how best to carry out on-campus instruction and about when and how to switch to remote instruction if necessary. Administrations should consult meaningfully with existing faculty governance bodies.
  • The faculty’s ability to exercise its primary responsibility in planning and decision making related to curriculum, subject matter, mode of instruction, and “those aspects of student life which relate to the education process” requires access to clear, accurate data regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the campus and the surrounding community. In order to ensure full transparency and to facilitate planning and decision making, administrations should develop COVID-19 dashboards to share with faculty, staff, and students, keeping in mind that the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act does not prohibit the release of statistical data without personally identifying information. The dashboards should be updated frequently.
  • Academic freedom protects faculty members’ rights to criticize their institutions’ policies concerning reopening and COVID safety, whether within the institution or to the wider public. As the AAUP's Statement on Professional Ethics observes, "Although professors observe the stated regulations of the institution, provided the regulations do not contravene academic freedom, they maintain their right to criticize and seek revision." However, academic freedom does not include the right to disregard university policies concerning modes of instruction and safety protocols.
  • Some institutions have moved  to a blended instructional model. The appropriate faculty governance body and, when applicable, the faculty union should have primary responsibility for determining institutional policies and practices around this form of instruction (for more information, see the AAUP’s Statement on Online and Distance Education).