AUSTIN, Texas - As students move into dorms at UT Austin this weekend and prepare to be back in classrooms Wednesday, two petitions asking for changes to COVID-19 protocols this semester are circulating.
Both petitions were authored by UT professors. One petition asks the school to implement a vaccine mandate, and until then, a mask mandate. Currently, masks are not required on campus, though students are required to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to move-in.
"We firmly believe that it should be within every professor’s right to demand a safe environment for ourselves and our students and that voluntary measures are not enough to achieve these goals in the midst of a pandemic," part of the petition states.
According to Prof. Patricia Maclachlan, who authored the petition, it started circulating on Aug. 11. As of Saturday, it had about 785 signatures. Approximately 600 are faculty and around 170 are graduate students, many of whom also teach.
Maclachlan told FOX 7 that she mailed the petition to President Hartzell’s office on Aug. 13 but did not receive a response. She plans to follow up on Monday.
Another petition asks that faculty that have young children - too young to be vaccinated - be allowed the option to teach remotely. So far, it has just over 100 signatures.
"There are a lot of parents and a lot of kids and it’s a tough situation to be in," said Prof. Ayelet Haimson Lushkov, who authored the petition and has a two-year-old and four-year-old. "I do understand the administration’s concerns, but as long as our children are so vulnerable, I don’t want to be bringing the virus home."
The university recently changed its policy to allow faculty to apply for remote learning but only for up to 3 weeks - ending Sept. 17. Lushkov found out Saturday morning that her husband, who is also a UT professor, was approved for the temporary remote teaching.
"That is a wonderful first step," said Lushkov. "But I’m hopeful if COVID levels remain what they are that the university will consider prolonging this period, at least while so many young children can’t be vaccinated."