OSU evaluates sick leave policies, aims to keep all current staff employed amid COVID-19 precautions

Calabaloo’s student worker Luis Roberts taking food payment from Brooke Sorenson, first year. 

Although events are canceled and classes are being taught remotely through the first weeks of spring, the Oregon State University Corvallis campus will remain open, and many employees will continue to work as the university employs strategies to leverage current sick day policies and ensure employees’ work hours decrease as little as possible. 

Casey Hasenpflug, chief human resources officer in the OSU Office of Human Resources, said the university is evaluating all possible strategies to “leverage the most liberal interpretation of current sick leave policies,” and that the university recognizes special policies may be required to handle COVID-19. 

“The university has a variety of sick day policies that support different employee groups and we have asked supervisors to apply a relaxed application of these existing university and unit sick leave guidelines,” Hasenpflug said via email.

Hasenpflug said the university is also considering different options that are currently the subject of union negotiation.

“Any changes to existing leave options in response to COVID-19 are evaluated in the context of equity across our overall community, rather than in service of one specific employee group,” Hasenpflug said via email. “That being said, sick leave benefits are in several cases governed by specific union contracts, each of which is the result of independent negotiation, so policy changes by nature are specific to certain employee groups.”

Steve Clark, vice president of University Relations and Marketing, said it is the university’s intent that all student workers remain employed, although it is possible that some of their respective job duties may change from what they have performed in the past. 

“We are working to learn what financial impacts students will encounter as a result of COVID-19 and OSU’s efforts to reduce exposure to the virus. University leaders will consider these needs and what assistance can be provided,” Clark said via email. “We will know more about this in the days to come.”

Deb Mott, the director of the Memorial Union, said the MU will operate as usual with all of the regular lounges, meeting rooms and services available. Staff have also taken steps to remove seating in closely packed spaces and have increased cleaning and disinfecting in the building. 

Mott said the MU plans to keep as many students employed as possible.

“We are planning to initiate some small projects that usually don’t get done until the summer,” Mott said via email.

University Housing and Dining Services residence halls and dining centers will also remain open according to Jennifer Vina, UHDS director of marketing and communications.

“On-campus residents will have support available to them in our residence halls and dining center locations will remain open with some adjustments to operations,” Vina said via email. “Our halls are normally open 365 days a year and our staffing model accounts for those operational needs, including employing student staff during the academic term, as well as during break periods.”

Vina said UHDS is working closely with staff members to identify their ability to work or manage individual needs during this time, and currently does not anticipate a reduction in staff time or hours.

Although campus will remain open, professors will transition to teaching their classes online. Clark said the university is assisting faculty and graduate teaching assistants in learning how to utilize Canvas and Zoom for remote teaching, and that there are cases in which in-person learning will be required, including some labs. 

Clark also said it is the university’s intent that all graduate assistants remain employed.

“Teaching faculty, graduate teaching assistants and the academic department heads and deans are collaborating to plan and be able to provide where possible remote academic teaching programs and delivery,” Clark said via email. “The Research Office and other OSU departments are working with faculty and graduate research assistants to determine how to safely and best carry research forward during OSU’s response to COVID-19.”

Patrick Emerson, a professor of economics in the OSU School of Public Policy, said he is confident he can conduct his class remotely, since he is teaching a course that has already been partially integrated in Canvas.

“I feel pretty well prepared. My class is already well integrated with Canvas and I am very familiar with Zoom,” Emerson said via email. “The university is doing a very good job in difficult circumstances to provide guidance and support. But I have a very clear idea of how I can accomplish teaching this course remotely.”

Since the university is trying to create as much social distance as possible, Emerson said he will be teaching from home. He believes the preferred scenario is that professors will teach and conduct work off-campus, but that professors are also able to work from their offices on-campus if they chose to do so. 

Christopher McKnight Nichols, a professor of history and the director of the OSU Center for Humanities, will deliver two classes remotely next term. Nichols said he is not particularly worried about delivering on-campus classes remotely, but recognizes that many courses, such as labs, music and arts simply cannot be conducted online.

“Both at the university level and at the unit or school level, along with the college level, information has been sent out to faculty with links and information to assist in developing remote capacity for classes,” Nichols said via email. “In the liberal arts we faculty are most used to teaching online and delivering a significant amount of content through Canvas for on-campus courses, so I do not anticipate too many problems regarding organizing on-campus courses remotely.”

Since students are being advised to stay nearby campus, Nichols said he is unsure whether professors are better off holding office hours in-person or remotely. 

“There are a lot of implications of this shift to remote course delivery, from classes to exams to events and meetings to so much more, and I expect it will take some time to work out the best, most humane path forward in the interests of keeping our entire community safe,” Nichols said via email. “So, one lesson there is to keep asking if you are unsure—as a student, faculty, staff or community member.”

Clark said OSU is completing a full university continuity plan early next week. 

“While many employees will work remotely, at this time, we believe that many offices will be open with an employee or two. Those that are not open will have signage, phone answering services and web messages that will indicate how students, employees and the public will be served,” Clark said via email. “In some cases, meetings such as advising, will be done remotely by Zoom, versus in person.”

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