Ensure Health and Safety on Kentucky Higher Education Campuses!

Kentucky Commonwealth College and University Presidents, Kentucky General Assembly Members, Board of Trustee Members, and Governor Andy Beshear

As the union of staff, faculty, public healthcare workers, graduate and undergraduate workers in the Commonwealth, UCW Kentucky calls on you to sign our Open Letter for Health and Safety on Kentucky Higher Education Campuses. As we start our fourth regular semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us -- staff, faculty, and students, included -- are incredibly concerned about the intensifying case numbers and hospitalizations throughout the state due to the Delta variant of COVID-19. More concerning still is the lack of leadership and action that many of our administrators have shown to protect us, our students, and our communities. Despite the rapid spread of the Delta variant, Kentucky college and university presidents have largely eroded the earlier pandemic precautions for the Fall 2021 term.

Join us in calling on our Kentucky Commonwealth College and University Presidents, the Kentucky General Assembly Members, our Board of Trustee Members, and Governor Andy Beshear, to step up to the plate and take action to ensure the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and our broader communities.

While you’re at it, join our union to take action on important issues such as pay, respect, healthcare insurance safety on the job during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s only through collective action and organization as a union that we can transform our public institutions of higher education into institutions which truly serve the public good.

Dear Kentucky Commonwealth College and University Presidents, Kentucky General Assembly Members, Board of Trustee Members, and Governor Andy Beshear,

As students, faculty, and staff start a fourth regular semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, few of the earlier pandemic precautions have carried over to the Fall 2021 term. Despite the surge of new cases due to the Delta variant of COVID-19, Kentucky college and University Presidents have been slow to respond and take appropriate leadership in ensuring the health and safety of staff, students, faculty and our broader community.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky currently has a 12.75% positivity rate (as of August 19, 2021) at over 4,836 new cases per day (source). In comparison, in August 2020 the Commonwealth only saw some 700 new cases per day (source). The reality is that we are in a more dangerous situation for the Fall 2021 semester than we were in Fall 2020 based on the rate of COVID infection. Yet, Commonwealth university and college administrators have all but abandoned earlier pandemic precautions. We are not out of the pandemic; University and college administrators should choose policies accordingly.

As the union of staff, faculty, public healthcare workers, graduate and undergraduate workers in the Commonwealth, United Campus Workers of Kentucky is uniquely positioned to understand the needs of our campuses and our communities. We are the employees who teach the classes, maintain the buildings, and support students outside of the classrooms. We are the workers who provide healthcare to underserved patients while at the same time teaching tomorrow’s providers.

In the last year and a half, acting collectively as a union, workers in UCW Kentucky have consistently called on our college and university presidents to take appropriate action to ensure the health, safety, and dignity of staff, students, faculty, and the broader communities. In this effort, we have been continually vindicated as college and university leaders have regularly met our demands: calls for top-level administrators to take pay cuts before laying off or firing low-paid staff at the beginning of the pandemic, calls for free COVID-19 testing for staff and faculty in Fall 2020, and calls for an increase in base pay to fifteen dollars an hour. Just a few weeks ago, KCTCS workers staged a successful call-in campaign for a college and University mask mandate for Fall 2021, which was subsequently implemented first at KCTCS and then by colleges and universities throughout the state. Now, we are calling on our college and university administrators to take further steps.

First, we believe that college and university presidents should do everything in their power to incentivize and support staff, students, and faculty in receiving COVID-19 vaccination. Vaccinations are a key part of keeping campus communities safe and healthy. As with other modern vaccines, the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Data shows that, for example, the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine showed 95% efficacy in clinical trials and still 88% effective against severe illness with the Delta variant (source). The risks with these vaccines are rare (source, source). As the union for higher education and public healthcare workers in the Commonwealth, United Campus Workers of Kentucky believes in the science of vaccines and their ability to support a safe and healthy community, both on campus and throughout the Commonwealth. Most Commonwealth college and university presidents have yet to explore all possible incentives, monetary or otherwise, and supports, such as work release and extra sick days to allow for vaccine side effects, for staff, faculty and students to receive the vaccine.

Second, we believe that there are a good number of steps beyond supporting and incentivizing the vaccination of staff, faculty, and students that college and university presidents can take. As such, UCW Kentucky calls on all Kentucky college and university presidents to immediately implement the steps listed below to ensure the health and safety of their students, faculty, staff and broader communities in Fall 2021. If college and university leaders are unwilling to take these steps, we call on Governor Andy Beshear, Commissioner of the Department for Public Health, Dr. Steven Stack, college and university board members, and the members of the Kentucky General Assembly to take action to ensure the implementation of the following measures:


  • Set a 90% vaccination rate goal for all students, faculty, and staff on Kentucky public colleges and university campuses.

  • Implement all possible incentives and supports for students, staff, and faculty to receive a COVID-19 vaccine including but not limited to:

    • Allowing all employees to get vaccinated on the clock

    • Offering extra paid sick leave to allow for vaccine side effects

    • Offering monetary incentives for employees who receive the vaccine

  • Implement and enforce a universal mask mandate with no exceptions in classrooms or shared spaces.

  • Implement all CDC guidelines for campuses without vaccine mandates, which include increased social distancing in shared spaces (classrooms, common areas, etc.) (source).

  • Publicly report the following information for all colleges and universities in the Commonwealth:

    • Case numbers (by 7-day average, daily new cases)

    • Vaccination rates on campus (for regular employees and privatized employees working on campus)

    • Campus vaccination rates, disaggregated by student/employee and disaggregating unvaccinated from unreported

  • Allow for students to take and instructors change the modality of their courses online or to hybrid (by request only, no medical documentation required) at any point during the semester. This flexibility is important as conditions continue to worsen.

  • Implement attendance policies that do not penalize students for missing class if they are symptomatic of or have been exposed to COVID-19.

  • Allow for faculty and staff to take FMLA if they don’t feel safe teaching and/or working in person and/or do not have adequate child/elder care.

  • Allow for staff whose work responsibilities allow it (for example, most library and clerical staff) to work remotely.

  • Offer extra support for caretakers, particularly of unvaccinated children or immunocompromised adults, especially in locations with low community vaccination rates where there are no safe daycares, elementary schools, etc. These measures should include but be not limited to:

    • The right for all employees (including part-time and graduate workers) to work from home, regardless of work duties, so as not to risk infecting vulnerable loved ones

    • Appropriate accommodations from department chairs and managers in regards to workload and hours for all employees (including part-time and graduate workers) who are caretakers

    • Paid leave for all employees (including part-time and graduate workers) if they have a child who is exposed to COVID-19 and therefore taken out of school or daycare to quarantine

  • Promote social distancing in classrooms and at campus events by:

    • Setting and enforcing clear limits on the size of campus gatherings

    • Hosting virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings (of all sizes)

    • Holding activities, events, and gatherings outdoors in areas that can accommodate physical distancing

    • Spacing out or blocking off rows, chairs, and/or table seating positions in communal use shared spaces (such as classrooms, dining halls, locker rooms, laboratory facilities, libraries, student centers, and lecture rooms)

    • Limiting occupancy and requiring mask use on campus buses/shuttles or other vehicles

  • Provide appropriate methods of communication and support resources for on campus staff who do not regularly use digital methods of communication.

  • Provide free, easily accessible testing on or near campus for all students, faculty and staff.

  • Provide free, easily accessible vaccine clinics on or near campus for all students, faculty and staff.

  • Allow all employees to get tested for COVID-19 on the clock.

  • Provide paid sick leave for all part-time employees including adjuncts, graduate workers, and hourly employees.

  • Do not require in-person/on-campus contact hours outside of teaching (e.g., office hours, student hours, meetings).

  • Publicly report on air circulation and ventilation in buildings/rooms being used for in-person instruction.

We, the United Campus Workers of Kentucky and the undersigned staff, faculty, students, and community members throughout the Commonwealth, call on you to take appropriate leadership in ensuring our health and safety during the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. We look forward to working with you to implement these health and safety provisions.

For more information on COVID-19, the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19, and how the pandemic has affected students, faculty, and staff across American universities and colleges, see:


For Instructors: UCW Recommended Syllabus Language for Instructors in the Commonwealth of Kentucky

Since there is a mask mandate set out by the university, you will be required to wear a mask at all times inside the building and throughout class regardless of your personal vaccination status. These guidelines are set in place, following the lead of medical professionals and the CDC, to keep everyone on campus and in our communities safe from the spread of COVID-19. With this in mind, if you are feeling ill please self-quarantine, be tested for the novel coronavirus, and stay home. The health and safety of everyone in this class is paramount.




To: Kentucky Commonwealth College and University Presidents, Kentucky General Assembly Members, Board of Trustee Members, and Governor Andy Beshear
From: [Your Name]

Please see the full text of our open letter above.