NYU staff and faculty are increasingly worried about their health and safety as the school settles in following its semester reopening during the pandemic. Citing what they say is a lack of university-provided personal protective equipment for lab classes, as well as a promised COVID-19 tracking dashboard that has yet to go live, staff and faculty insist the administration could be doing more.

Eleven groups and unions, and 213 individuals, forming a group dubbed “NYU: Keep Our Campus Safe,” have signed a letter to NYU expressing their concern with reopening and the steps that they want to see taken. This is the first time in recent history that so many unions at NYU have formed a coalition in order for their concerns to be addressed. They're asking NYU to maximize the opportunity to work from home, adopt public health measures that minimize policing, protect the most vulnerable, and include the unions in the university’s decision-making process.

Other student groups, such as resident advisors, are also worried about their safety.

Rebecca Karl, who teaches history at the university, said it felt as if the school was pressuring contract faculty and Ph. D. candidates, who are considered vulnerable since they live in the areas hit hard by COVID-19 and rely on public transportation, to teach in-person this year while tenured faculty, like herself, were given the option to choose if they wanted to teach remotely or not.

“We were very uncomfortable with that kind of inequality and injustice on campus,” she said.

When NYU decided in late May that they would be offering in-person classes for the fall, Karl, 59, said she felt the university was making the most financially advantageous decision.

“NYU decided early on it was going to be a death cult, and it was going to engage in this experiment with the community—its students, faculty, staff, security and other worker personnel—that we were all going to be guinea pigs in their financial experiment,” Karl said.

In documents shared with Gothamist, the university estimates that it lost upwards of $167 million in the spring because of the pandemic. Revenue generated from the dorms is down and in order to save money, the university instituted a hiring freeze.

As the university administration made its plans for the return of students to NYU’s buildings this fall, faculty and staff felt they were excluded from the administration’s decisions. Some faculty said that NYU didn’t take into consideration their own expertise and how they thought their classrooms could be improved for safety.

Instead, NYU commissioned a third-party study of all classrooms and received a report a few weeks ago. The report was intended to be shared with faculty, but Joe Osmundson, an assistant clinical professor of biology, and other faculty in his department have not been given access to it.

“NYU is a community of scholars from our students to our faculty members to our administration, and my biggest frustration is not being treated like I'm in a community of scholars,” he said.

As frustrations mounted over NYU’s lack of transparency in its decision-making process, an email was sent out on August 16th from Bill Berkley, Chairman of the NYU Board of Trustees. He wrote that the Board of Trustees understood no one was happy with the reality of the pandemic, but as an institution, they had to move forward and would ensure the health and safety of all staff, students and administrators.

“We have built a robust program that we believe can work. With your help, I am confident we will get this done,” the email said. “The next weeks will be challenging, but together with your/everyone’s commitment and discipline, we will meet the challenge. I believe that brighter days are ahead, although there will undoubtedly be bumps along the way.”

John Beckman, the NYU spokesperson, said, “Everyone naturally feels some concern in the face of COVID-19. But the reality is that NYU has put enormous effort into preparation–and communicating about those preparations–with the NYU community.”

Throughout the summer, NYU gathered responses from students, staff and faculty which informed their back-to-school plan, Beckman said.

"In a time of COVID-related anxiety and uncertainty, one always hesitates to challenge someone else's individual experiences. But claims that NYU hasn't prepared, or hasn't shared its plans, or hasn't solicited input from its community, or hasn't made available proper equipment, or hasn't communicated, or hasn't acted out of care or concern for its students and employees— these claims simply do not stand up to even modest scrutiny," he said.

Osmundson compares the lack of a plan to being in an out of control car that’s sliding on black ice toward a wall. But in this case, the wall is COVID-19.

“I don’t want to get sick, I don’t want my students to get sick but it just feels like it’s an inevitable outcome,” he said. “That made me scared and angry because that’s a choice that the institution has made.”