ASU President Michael Crow sent an email to employees Wednesday morning further explaining the policies and procedures the University made and how those decisions were made.
The message cited the ASU Charter, the University's COVID-19 management plan, the collective benefit of a return to campus and the University's role as "an essential service for the state and the nation" as to why the University will be reopening in person on Thursday, Aug. 20.
In over 3,300 words, Crow addressed concerns some faculty and other employees have on the in-person return. Many of the concerns addressed by Crow match the concerns in an Aug. 6 letter addressed to him, which asked ASU to delay the start of in-person classes, signed by over 500 students, faculty and staff.
Crow pointed to the scientific data ASU is using to reopen, accommodation requests for remote teaching and the differences between K-12 benchmarks and ASU's benchmarks for in-person instruction.
"I believe one of ASU's strengths has always been its ability to acknowledge the uniqueness of our community," Crow said in the message.
"The good news is that we know how to control the spread of such diseases even in the context of controlled, in-person gatherings," Crow said. "We simply need to apply that knowledge effectively."
The University's decision to return is based on the "evaluation of the best science, data and public health practices that we could identify" and Arizona's decline in the new number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the past several weeks, Crow said.
Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute, and Neal Woodbury, the interim executive vice president of Knowledge Enterprise, along with other faculty, have been involved in developing the University's testing protocols and methodologies.
"There simply is no circumstance in which ASU can 'shut down' or 'turn off.'" Crow said. "And, as we continue to fulfill our mission, ASU employees will need to be on campus to help carry out those essential functions."
In the letter, Crow said ASU provides "a set of essential functions" to the country through educating nurses, teachers, engineers and more.
The Community of Care Coalition — which consists of around 100 faculty, staff and graduate students who created the letter to Crow asking to delay in-person instruction — said in a statement they are "heartened to see the administration responding to our concerns," but "remain troubled about the inadequate response to several issues" the coalition addressed in their letter.
The communications committee for the coalition said Crow's email did not address which scientific benchmarks are being used to "determine the safety of in-person instruction" or "the lack of transparent processes for consulting faculty and staff on COVID policy."
Crow's email also did not address the "unevenness" in the University's accommodation requests, the coalition said, or the pressure to return in-person faculty members said they felt.
The email also did not address the "University's failure to consider COVID's asymmetrical impacts on communities of color," the statement from the coalition said.
They also said the email failed to address their concerns on releasing COVID-19 data to the community.
In a meeting with The State Press Wednesday, Crow said a public dashboard for University-wide COVID-19 data is being developed.
The University is going back to those who wrote the letter and signed it to address with them the questions they may still have.
In the meeting Wednesday, Crow said all staff who requested an accommodation to work remotely due to medical concerns were approved. Katie Paquet, a University spokesperson, said 95% of staff who submitted non-medical related requests have been approved.
Crow said faculty who did not submit an accommodation request can still do so and if the request is denied, they can appeal the decision to their respective dean.
"We don't take a vote on every issue that goes on in the university that would just be chaos," Woodbury said in the meeting with The State Press. "So it's always an issue with the faculty and we try as best we can to keep communicating."
In the meeting, Crow said the University had done its best to be transparent and communicate with faculty the plans for fall.
According to Crow, 40% of faculty do not open emails regarding the fall semester. Some faculty members may read the statements sent by the University through the ASU website, or have the emails forwarded to them.
"People may have decided at different points when they're going to pay attention and how they're going to pay attention," Crow said.
Crow also addressed some faculty comparing ASU to K-12 schools. How a university operates is fundamentally different than a K-12 school, and Crow said in the letter that the two environments are filled with different people.
He also said the University's decision to reopen has nothing to do with money.
"We do not have a financial mission; we do have a social and economic advancement mission," Crow said in the email. "We are — and have been — committed to student success and have invested significantly to make that a reality.
"Our efforts to continue serving students reflect that ongoing commitment," Crow said. "It is always the case that we must find ways to operate the institution in a financially sustainable manner, but finances are not the end goal."
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.
Piper Hansen is the digital editor-in-chief at The State Press, overseeing all digital content. Joining SP in Spring 2020, she has covered student government, housing and COVID-19. She has previously written about state politics for The Arizona Republic and the Arizona Capitol Times and covers social justice for Cronkite News.