Math professor suspended for COVID-19 noncompliance

Oregon+State+University+students+line+up+outside+at+the+Student+Experience+Center+plaza+on+Jan.+6+to+receive+COVID-19+testing.+Students+and+professors+who+are+not+fully+vaccinated+must+test+weekly+for+COVID-19%2C+and+are+required+to+quarantine+if+they+test+positive.

Jess Hume-Pantuso, Photographer

Oregon State University students line up outside at the Student Experience Center plaza on Jan. 6 to receive COVID-19 testing. Students and professors who are not fully vaccinated must test weekly for COVID-19, and are required to quarantine if they test positive.

Sam Misa, News Contributor

Floran Kacaku, a math professor at Oregon State University, was suspended for noncompliance with the university’s COVID-19 vaccine policies at the beginning of finals week during winter term. 

On March 25, Kacaku was reportedly terminated, though the reason for his termination is undisclosed.

Kacaku’s initial suspension came after OSU updated its policy to lift masking mandates on March 12, and after Oregon Health and Science University predicted that the state of Oregon had already reached its peak for COVID-19 cases. 

OSU’s policy regarding COVID-19 vaccinations requires both students and staff to either be vaccinated or have proof of negative COVID-19 tests each week to attend or teach classes. Kacaku is unvaccinated for COVID-19 but would not confirm the specific reason for which he was suspended for noncompliance.

According to Kacaku, he had received an email asking him to stay home on March 9 while a substitute teacher would step in to teach his classes. Kacaku said he believed the email was false due to what he claimed is an unreliability of OSU leadership emailing, as well as recent scam emails, which is why he ignored the email. 

“There’s a professor that sends me emails from an outside source,” Kacaku said. “[He] either sends it through, like my Gmail account, not my Oregon State email. When he does send me through Oregon State, it is an external email, so I’m not really sure how the department works over there.”

According to Kacaku, while he had been receiving emails about his vaccine noncompliance, he had not received any phone calls or any other communication about the situation until he was suspended. 

According to Parker Williams, one of Kacaku’s students, Kacaku went to the class he was instructed not to teach on March 9, where an argument ensued between Kacaku, the substitute teacher and Enrique A. Thomann, the head of the math department. 

According to Kacaku, he felt Thomann expected him to be subordinate to him or intimidated by his power.

“So he’s filming, and he’s expecting me to do something physically that looks intimidating,” Kacaku said. “So I can look like the bad guy.”

Thomann has declined to comment on the situation.

Cameron Fletcher, another student of Kacaku’s who’d been in the class at the time, said that besides taking the phone out of Thomann’s hands, Kacaku didn’t do anything physical to Thomann.

“Floran was raising his voice at him, and pointing at the man,” said Fletcher. “There was no other aggressive acting besides that.”

As a result of the incident, Kacaku said he went to complain to the dean’s office about Thomann, where he was suspended for COVID-19 policy noncompliance. Kacaku said he believes he was wrongfully suspended due to the circumstances of his case. 

“Instead of me letting my grievances go, talking about what happened to me—it wasn’t about this,” Kacaku said. “It was an interrogation, and to me it felt like I was in a police station. I was the one that went to complain. And now I’m the one on trial.”

Kacaku, who said he already contracted COVID-19 two years ago, also wondered why the university was asking about his vaccines, as he said COVID-19 is over and masks are not required anymore.

“Obviously, if I got COVID-19, I already had immunity, and I’m good and I’m healthy, I never got COVID-19 afterwards,” Kacaku said. “Why weren’t we talking about COVID-19 when [the university] first hired me? Why weren’t [they] so persistent about that [at the beginning]?”

Kacaku said that he was told to attend a meeting for his noncompliance. According to Kacaku, he was informed that he was allowed to bring a union representative for his defense but was not allowed to record the meeting. 

Kacaku said he was unable to locate a union representative and received no help from OSU in finding one. 

According to Steve Clark, vice president of University Relations and Marketing, employees receive extensive help from their immediate supervisors as well as the leaders of units they work within, such as deans.

“As well, employees receive support from the university’s office of Human Resources and other offices,” Clark said. “For example, the Ombuds Office, or many other offices dependent upon the matter, serve employees.”

Clark was unable to give specific numbers on how many professors at OSU are currently unvaccinated.

Kacaku said he believes he shouldn’t have been suspended because of the irregular way administration enforced  the university’s COVID-19 policies.

“[The OSU professor] sent me an email, the night before [the incident], that I have not complied with the vaccine, which I haven’t complied with, since I came here,” Kacaku said. “But when I came here, they were relaxed about it.”

According to Kacaku, the previous head of the department was lenient with the COVID-19 policies. It was only when Thomann became the standing head of the department, Kacaku said, that these COVID-19 compliance issues were brought up. 

“I can understand why he was angry about being filmed and especially given how close we were to the mask mandate being lifted and so on,” Williams said. 

According to Williams, however, he does not agree with Kacaku’s decision to avoid vaccination nor does he agree with Kacaku’s choice to attend class.