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Letter to Plowman regarding Omicron and Campus Safety

Sent: Thursday, January 6, 2022 4:20 PM
To: Chancellor Donde Plowman <>
Subject: Letter from local AAUP regarding Covid safety on campus  

It takes people who listen and learn and put others first. People who pull together and push each other to new heights…and it takes something inside all of us, something that drives us to do better for ourselves, for each other. Because obstacles are opportunities. Challenges bring change. And we know that those who are willing to step forward will be ready for whatever lies ahead. It takes courage to light the way. It takes a Volunteer. – UT Admissions Video 

6 January 2022 

Dear Chancellor Plowman,  

We write to you again in response to Mr. Scoggin’s email on December 3, 2021 regarding our letter sent to you and Provost Zomchick that same day. 

Mr. Scoggins speaks of the “constraints placed on the University as a result of Tennessee law and the preliminary injunction against enforcement of the applicable federal executive order.” It is our understanding that on December 10, 2021, U.S. District Judge Crenshaw issued a 54-page ruling that temporarily blocked Tennessee’s law preventing mask mandates.1 Additionally, you have personally said that you will follow the science2 and the CDC3. We expect our leadership at a flagship, research university to follow the science in the interest of your dedication to safety for all UT employees and students.  

Since our last letter at the start of December, Omicron has spread through the country and Tennessee at unprecedented rates. As of January 4, Tennessee has a test positivity rate of 34%, 10% higher than at any other peak, and the state is averaging nearly 10,000 new infections each day, according to the state’s own data.4 

Thus, we request the following immediate accommodations: 

1. We request that staff be allowed to work remotely, whenever possible, to decrease their likelihood of Covid infection and transmission; 

2. We request that all staff who are required to work on campus be provided with 10 free N95 masks each month; 

3.  We request that UT pivot to virtual teaching modalities for all lecture courses in order to limit the number of students on campus and the number of students in crowded classrooms; 

4.  We request that UT follow the CDC’s guidance by instituting re-entry screening for students returning to campus and implement a universal ongoing screening testing strategy for students living on campus;  

5. Finally, we request that university administrators, deans, and department heads model safe behavior by wearing N95 masks indoors or when outdoors in large groups. 

What we do matters. We should be leading the way in Knoxville, in East Tennessee, and in the state. Our requests are made in the spirit of keeping our campus and our community safe and healthy. We call on you, as our chancellor, to do all that you can to save us from unnecessary sickness and suffering. We call on you to be a Volunteer. 


American Association of University Professors, UTK Chapter, Executive Committee 

1 Federal judge blocks Tennessee law preventing schools from issuing mask mandates, 

2 An upper bound on one-to-one exposure to infectious human respiratory particles, 

3 CDC Guidance for Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs),  “For IHEs where not everyone is fully vaccinated, CDC recommends universal masking indoors in public for all persons who are unvaccinated regardless of level of community transmission, and universal masking indoors in public for all persons (fully vaccinated and not fully vaccinated) in areas of substantial or high transmission.” 

4 Tennessee Department of Health weekly data, .  See also Mayo Clinic Tennessee State Map for Covid hot spots. 


Scoggins, Matthew 

Fri 12/3/2021 5:41 PM 

Dr. McAlpin, 

This acknowledges your e-mail to Chancellor Plowman. 

The issues you raised have been addressed by the administration in previous campus communications, including the e-mail from the Chancellor on Wednesday in which she outlined the constraints placed on the University as a result of Tennessee law and the preliminary injunction against enforcement of the applicable federal executive order.