RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Wednesday, the VCU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a letter stating they were shocked by the university’s decision to resume in-person learning and called for an “immediate” meeting.

VCU students and staff are set to resume in-person and hybrid courses on March 4. The university set the date last week basing it off on coronavirus positivity rates, a review of available on-campus isolation space and COVID-19 testing capacity.

The VCU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors is made up of around 120 professors. The VCU AAUP’s letter, penned by chapter president Dr. Everett Carpenter, states that due to the ongoing pandemic it is still not safe for a return to in-person instruction.

The University’s announcement said student mental health is negatively impacted by online learning but the letter from the professors argues physical and mental health will be “directly put at risk” by in-person classes.

The VCU AAUP claims that the return date was set without any consultation with faculty groups such as the Faculty Senate and the COVID Faculty Advisory Group.

“The latest decision violates core principles of shared governance by not including significant faculty voices,” the letter said.

The letter goes on to question the administration as to why they are deciding to restart on-campus classes in March.

“Little to nothing in the overall pandemic situation in Virginia and the Richmond area has changed in the past few weeks, or even the past few months, that would support such a decision,” the VCU AAUP said in its letter.

Carpenter argues that things could be even more dangerous now that new COVID-19 variants have started emerging in Virginia.

Other concerns voiced in the letter include a lack of on-campus testing and a disruption to student learning.

Carpenter called on VCU to offer more frequent student testing, such as George Mason University’s strategy of testing students twice a week.

As for disruption to student learning, Carpenter is concerned about students who chose to not reside in the Richmond area this semester because they were anticipating online learning. Carpenter said accommodating virtual instruction and in-person instruction simultaneously creates an “unfair situation” for students learning on campus.

Carpenter told 8News, students returning to in-person classes right before midterms add to the confusion level. According to Carpenter, he has received many responses on the AAUP listserv over the past week with inquiries from professors for clarification on the re-opening announcement. The letter ends with a request for a meeting with VCU’s President Michael Rao and other administrators.

In response, according to the University, while this will be a limited return to campus, most classes will still be held online.

“The decision to resume those previously scheduled in-person and hybrid courses on March 4 is based on the recommendations of VCU’s Public Health Response Team and Incident Coordination Team. The recommendation is based on COVID-19 positivity rates at VCU and in the community, testing availability, isolation space on campus and area hospital capacity. University leadership regularly engages with and responds to our faculty, staff and students by email and a variety of meetings. A faculty and staff information session webinar was held on Jan. 22 and today the COVID Faculty/Staff Advisory Group met. The VCU Faculty Senate president and Dr. Carpenter attended that meeting.”

Virginia Commonwealth University

Processes are in place to accommodate changes on an individual basis.

“I would tend to hope that they reach out to their faculty and see what accommodations can be made, but keeping in mind that faculty weren’t consulted in this decision. It is an administrative decision,” said Carpenter.