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Auburn professors denounce move against administration in battle over in-person classes

At least 40 Auburn University professors have now stated their opposition to a no-confidence vote directed at Provost Bill Hardgrave. The vote had been called by one of the school’s faculty members to express his personal discontent with Auburn’s decision to continue offering in-person classes this year.

While the university’s COVID-19 safety protocols for on-campus activities have been lauded by national health officials, and have mirrored those of other institutions in the state, faculty member Michael Stern chose to voice his disapproval of in-person learning by calling for a no-confidence vote on Hardgrave by the University Senate. As provost, Hardgrave acts as the university’s chief academic officer.

In response to Stern’s move, dozens of university professors have signed onto a statement against the vote.

In a document provided to Yellowhammer News, faculty members from various academic departments stated their belief that “a no-confidence vote is inappropriate and will be damaging to our students, our faculty, and our university.”

Joining other colleges and universities around the state, Auburn opened up its campus for in-person learning last fall and continued that opportunity for students with the start of classes on Monday.

The school’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus are a product of the guidance the school has received from a wide array of health officials, according to Auburn University President Jay Gogue.

In a December video interview with the Opelika-Auburn News, Gogue outlined that the COVID-19 protocols established by the university resulted from consultations with those health officials, including the Alabama Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control.

White House health official Dr. Deborah Birx commended the Auburn administration for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis during a September visit to the campus.

As for the health and safety measures implemented by Auburn, Gogue cited Birx’s endorsement of Auburn’s work as something which would allow students, faculty and parents to have increased confidence.

He recalled Birx telling members of the administration, “’Auburn you planned well, you had contingency plans, and you had contingency plans for your contingency plans.’”

This is not the first time that Stern, a professor in the Department of Economics, has positioned himself as an adversary of Auburn. He sued the university in September 2018 alleging unfair treatment. In November of that year, he amended his lawsuit to include individual members of the Auburn administration, including Hardgrave.

That case is scheduled to go to trial next month.

Understanding the importance of on-campus learning, Gogue stated that his administration will continue consulting with the medical community as part of its academic process.

“Going into the spring term, I think the hope would be that we could do more face-to-face and in-person than we did in the fall,” he explained. “I have said throughout that totally depends on the virus, totally depends on where we are. We are not going to put people in harm’s way to do that. I think Bill [Hardgrave] felt an obligation to get it back to as normal as possible as students and families thought about the spring term.”

“The health and safety will drive whether or not any of that occurs,” he concluded.

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia