To the Editor:

Joseph M. Pierce’s recent essay was a compelling description of his understandable concern about the safety of returning to campus for in-person instruction and experiences this fall (“How Can We Trust Administrators? The Chronicle Review, September 14). At Stony Brook University, there is great empathy for all those returning to campus, and respect for the trepidation some may have regarding the university’s promise and ability to address and mitigate the epidemic in our community.

The fact is, we have strong evidence that our carefully monitored, science-based, flexible and collaborative approach to managing risk, and maximizing our campus community’s experience, has been successful in keeping Covid counts low compared to other campuses and our local communities. We’ve been recognized as one of the safest university campuses and a role model for helping stop the spread of Covid-19. Our research is well respected and sought after. And, we continue to put the health and safety of our campus community first, as we draw on our extensive resources and expertise to maintain that level of excellence this fall and beyond.

As it has throughout the pandemic, our vigilant approach includes robust environmental health and safety protocols, which often exceed current regulations; strict masking and vaccine mandates; stringent testing requirements; thorough contact tracing processes; and, university-wide Covid-19 committees that meet regularly to address evolving issues. We share all of that information with our campus community through regular updates and a comprehensive Stronger Together website, including the latest Covid guidance, FAQs, etc.

Our dashboard is updated daily and includes information on case counts, quarantine numbers, percentages of in-person and online classes, vaccine rates, and testing. Of particular note is that 100 percent of our residential students are vaccinated as are 92 percent of in-person off-campus residential students and 74 percent of our university staff and faculty. Our local community is vaccinated at a rate of 62 percent.

Contrary to Professor Pierce’s claims that his university administration is not being “straightforward about how those risks inform the decisions they have made …" and that “we are being asked to trust decisions made for us, not by us,” his colleagues and faculty leaders were and continue to be involved in the planning process — particularly leading up to the return to in-person instruction.

Numerous examples include: administrators and their teams meeting continuously with union leadership to brief them directly on evolving issues and solicit their feedback and input; the campus staff/faculty union president, sitting on the university’s bi-weekly “return to work” Covid committee; the Stony Brook Medicine campus UUP chapter president sitting on the “health and safety” committee; and, the president of the university senate sitting on the senior-executive committee, which has met weekly since early 2020. A Provost Academic Planning committee was also engaged in the initial “return to campus/research/classes,” and administrators have met directly with deans and chairs at various intervals throughout the last 18+ months, while keeping internal and external constituencies briefed regularly on our plans and processes.

This is shared governance at its best and we will continue to value and seek the input and counsel of our faculty and staff, including Professor Pierce. With the current semester well underway we have already started strong, showing no upticks in positive cases, and we fully expect this to be another successful semester.

Lawrence M. Zacarese
Vice President for Enterprise Risk Management and Chief Security Officer
Stony Brook University


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