AAUP Speaks Out On The Campus Covid Crisis

For immediate release

January 24, 2022

Campus Covid Crisis Endangers Our Faculty, Staff, Students, Administration, and the General Public: Professors Seek Compassion, Safety, and Better Communication 

For a video version of this press release, please go here:

Two years ago, we learned about the first documented cases of Covid-19 in the United States. Two years later, as of this writing, Tennessee Tech has 255 reported active cases of Covid-19 among students, faculty, and staff, according to the university’s own Covid dashboard, which is based on voluntary self-reporting. The current positivity rate for Covid in Putnam County is over 40%, which means that almost half of the people tested for the virus have it; a safe level is considered less than 10%. At the same time, less than half of our region have received even one shot of the vaccine. 

The Tennessee Tech chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) speaks out today in support of, and in solidarity with, everyone who works and studies on this campus during this unprecedented public health crisis. The chapter collectively expresses its principled dismay and genuine concern that our campus leadership has not responded responsibly to the current surge of Covid cases in our community. Since the pandemic began, we have seen our students and colleagues get sick, miss work or class, adapt to various teaching modalities, and some have even died from this virus. 

In early January, when many of our local peer institutions delayed the start to the spring semester or switched temporarily to online learning, Tennessee Tech opened its spring semester on January 10th, one week earlier than had been our custom for decades, when we previously began the term after the MLK national holiday. Despite concerns about our shortened winter break and genuine anxiety about the safety of being fully open during the current Covid surge, the university decided to push forward without any substantive changes to its fully-open for in-person classes model that has been pursued since the Fall 2020 semester. 

In recent communications from the university, we have been reminded of this stark reality: “Currently, all public universities in Tennessee are not allowed to implement mask or vaccination mandates under a recently passed state law.” Moreover, the university claims to follow the CDC advice about isolation and quarantine when a person is exposed, but in reality, we are not sufficiently encouraging or enforcing best practices. CDC guidelines depend on whether one is fully vaccinated (or not) and recommend the wearing of masks in case of exposure to Covid; yet faculty are asked questions by students about possible Covid exposure and are not allowed to either ask vaccination status or require masks.

There was a time when the teaching modality of a professor’s classroom could be seen as a matter of academic freedom, like the choice of the textbook, grading scale, attendance policy, or examination philosophy. Today, an “in-person or else” approach has become a political wedge issue, including the denial by some of the validity of vaccines or helpfulness of masks to mitigate the spread of disease. Even the decision to get tested at all is voluntary for members of the campus community. Although some online and livestream options are available, many faculty are required to teach in a classroom, if they want to teach at all. Even some faculty with  documented health conditions who teach online livestream classes are expected to teach these online classes from their campus offices, instead of from home. Some of our most essential workers, such as food service and custodial workers, are not Tech employees due to outsourcing, are some of our lowest-paid and most vulnerable colleagues. This is also a challenging time for them.

We once again call on our campus administration, community leaders, and elected officials to reconsider the “business-as-usual” approach that has guided the pandemic response in Tennessee. For many of us in the campus community, with genuine health concerns that make simply doing our jobs a matter of life or death during this pandemic, we want to speak clearly on behalf of the lives and safety of our colleagues and students. We want our campus and community leaders to consider the moral implications of their decisions, even as some of the people with whom we share offices, conversations, and daily duties, continue to get sick and even die.  


Contact: Andrew Smith, campus chapter President

Josie McQuail, campus chapter Vice President


American Association of University Professors

Dr. Mike Gambone, Kutztown University, PA: “I Smell a Rat: Building a Campaign for Workplace Safety and Management Accountability”

Dr. Michael Gambone, a history professor at Kutztown University (PA) has accepted our invitation to speak on September 5th from 5.00-6.30 pm in Bell Hall Auditorium.

His talk “I Smell a Rat: Building a Campaign for Workplace Safety and Management Accountability” will be held following our first AAUP meeting of the semester. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that features his experiences and efforts at his workplace can be read here: https://www.chronicle.com/article/They-Say-Their-Buildings-Are/244327.

Letters and articles in response to environmental safety at TTU

Sat 3/30/2019

Dear Editor  —
Dr. Colleen Hays and I would like to submit the letter below to The Oracle.

This semester there have been air quality problems seriously affecting students and professors. We believe these stem from the change in cleaning chemicals during the semester break. The procedure
for lodging an indoor air quality (IAQ) complaint says: “The agent responsible . . . may be chemical,”* but does not include a cleaning agent on the list of causes.

We noticed that symptoms coincided with the use of these chemicals in and near the classroom before or during class. Symptoms are: headaches, coughing, dry mouth, sinus problems, fatigue,
dizziness, chest tightness, itching, rashes, burning scalp, and eye, skin, respiratory and throat irritation.

The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) says: “The person or persons who are affected by the indoor air quality shall contact their supervisor/department head. . . [who] will notify Facilities
Services (372-3227).” (We were told to contact Facilities as well. From our experience, it was also helpful to contact HR.)

Facilities then starts an investigation. But, if an IAQ complaint “is complex or the agent(s) is/are unknown,” Facilities “will work with Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). The investigation shall
be . . . based on the perceived degree of hazard.”* Whose perception?
The SOP says that if a more rigorous investigation is needed, “the complainant will complete IAQ forms** . . . . [which] will be sent to the supervisor/ department head . . . .” Do they just keep them?

Poor air quality can break down the immune system and can make one susceptible to more serious illnesses. Chronic exposure may change one’s life by sensitizing the person. If you have headaches or other symptoms that appear while you are in class and then subside,
report the problem to protect yourself and others. Good health is a precious right. We must work together to protect the campus community’s health.

* https://www.tntech.edu/safety/pdf/Indoor_air_quality_SOP.pdf
** https://www.tntech.edu/safety/manuals.php

Julia K. Gruber, Ph.D. (formerly Baker)Associate Professor of GermanDepartment of Foreign LanguagesTennessee Technological UniversityCookeville, TN 38501Office: 931-372-3787Cell: 931-644-6165
… living another year

Posted Thursday, May 16, 2019 BY KATE COOK, Herald Citizen


Letter to the HC editor by Jon Jonakin 5/16/19

Letter to the HC editor by Lachelle Norris 5/31/19

This article was written in December 2018. http://herald-citizen.com/stories/matthews-daniel-on-techs-construction-plans,32203

TTU Salary Data

Twice a year, AAUP updates a database of salaries. We use the budget books in the library and compare the data with the online source.https://www.tntech.edu/hr/salaries

We started this database in 2012. Every year, we add new hires and we observe pay raises. The link below shows pay data from 2012-February 2018.

TTU Salaries updated February 2018


Jonakin letter October 17, 2018


October 17, 2018

Letter to the editor

Two years after administering its 2016 faculty opinion survey the TTU chapter of the American Association of University Professors has now released the results of its second faculty survey.  Much like the first one, the 2018 survey finds that faculty members at TTU believe that they and their students are poorly led and served by the current administration and our Board of Trustees.  The survey was distributed to 421 full-time faculty and we received replies from 137 individuals for a response rate of 32.5%; very good for such surveys. [To see the entire survey, go to: https://sites.tntech.edu/aaup/].  To nearly every question posed, between two thirds and three quarters of respondents were ‘somewhat dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with: [1] the manner in which administrators were hired (73% dissatisfied); [2] the level of satisfaction with shared governance (74.4% dissatisfied); [3] the composition of the TTU Board of Trustees (62% dissatisfied); [4] confidence that the Board of Trustees acts in the best interests of the students (73% answered ‘no’); [5] confidence in the manner in which the administration has upheld its responsibilities (79.6% answered ‘no’); and [6] faculty confidence in President Phil Oldham as an administrator (58.4% said ‘no’) while 65% were dissatisfied with Oldham’s ‘job performance’.

These dismal numbers should come as a surprise to no one who has followed recent events at TTU.  The administration and the Board have routinely ignored the TTU faculty and the tradition of shared governance by acting in an authoritarian and dismissive manner.  The Board, with a silent Oldham at their side, has together suggested that the TTU faculty is composed of lazy shirkers who may not deserve even a cost of living increase or the traditional protection of tenure and academic independence.  On the other hand, the Board falls head- over-heels to grant Oldham an extended job contract, recurring double digit salary increases, and, most recently, a five figure bonus.  What has this beneficence purchased?  TTU’s continued flat or falling student enrollment;  recurring fiscal shortfalls (we’ve just learned of a $2.5 million deficit resulting in academic hiring freezes and staff firings that have already begun);  multiple, failed business ventures at a nominally non-profit institution; and the infamous TTU/Fitzgerald scandal (for which we still await the outcome of an investigation).  No wonder the faculty has given a vote of ‘no confidence’ in Oldham’s and the Board’s performance.


Jon Jonakin, TTU Emeritus Professor of Economics

AAUP Survey Oracle article

AAUP survey: Faculty lacks confidence in Oldham, Tech administration

By Kelli Kent and Adam Parks
On October 19, 2018
A survey conducted by Tech’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors reveals nearly 42 percent of respondents are "Very Dissatisfied" with President Phil Oldham's job performance.

A survey conducted by Tech’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors reveals nearly 42 percent of respondents are “Very dissatisfied” with President Phil Oldham’s job performance. Data obtained from Tech’s AAUP blog

Tenured faculty overwhelmingly lack confidence in the school’s current administration including President Phil Oldham, according to a survey conducted by Tech’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

The respondents also reported being dissatisfied with the composition of the board of trustees and its decision-making process. Seventy-three percent of respondents said the board does not act in the best interest of students, according to the survey released this week.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the way administrators performed their jobs, according to the survey.

The AAUP serves as a watchdog on college campuses across the nation. The AAUP surveyed full-time faculty at the end of the spring semester in order to gauge satisfaction and confidence with the Tech board of trustees and of the Tech administration.

Of the 421 questionnaires distributed, 137 were returned. Ninety-eight respondents are tenured, 22 are on tenure track, and 12 are non-tenure track. Five respondents did not indicate their faculty rank.

Oldham came under fire in the spring during an investigation conducted by Tech officials about a study conducted for the Fitzgerald Glider Kit. The issue drew protests from students and faculty members.

“As an alumnus of Tech, I am concerned about the future of Tennessee Tech under the current administration,” Rachael Robinson said in a comment on Tech’s AAUP blog.

Earlier this semester, the board approved a 2 percent salary increase for Oldham and a $60,000 performance bonus.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with Oldham’s job performance, and 60 percent lack confidence in him as an administrator.

Oldham said he plans to continue meeting with faculty and address any concerns they may have.

“As I regularly meet with the Faculty Senate and talk to faculty members across campus, I am encouraged that all of us share a common goal: to make a stronger university to better serve the students who have selected Tech to be their collegiate home,” Oldham said in a written statement to The Oracle.

Other findings from the survey:

  • Seventy-three percent of respondents said they are dissatisfied with the hiring of administrators.
  • Nearly 60 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with decisions made about campus buildings and grounds.
  • Over 40 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with the protection of free speech on campus.
  • Nearly 75 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with shared governance.

“I greatly appreciate the faculty at Tech and the job they do to serve and educate our students. As always, I remain committed to putting students first and creating the best university and educational experience for our students,” Oldham said.

Autumn Tinch contributed to this story.






 [Revisions by Mr. Andrew William Smith, Dr. Patrick Reagan, and Ms. Chandra Griffth Elkins, Ad Hoc Constitution Committee, October 2008-March 29, 2010 and presented to the members for a vote on April 16, 2010]




The name of this association shall be the Tennessee Tech Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP).  This chapter shall be affiliated with the national organization and the Tennessee Conference of the American Association of University Professors.


The mission of the Tennessee Tech Chapter of the AAUP shall be the same as that of the national organization.

The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance, to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education, and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.  As a non-profit organization, we serve the profession, rather than individual members, and our services are available to all members of the profession, regardless of membership status.

The principal functions of this chapter shall be: (1) to consider questions of general interest to the professoriate; (2) to consider current local questions of academic method or policy, or of professional obligation and privilege; (3) to serve as a nucleus in initiating faculty action; (4) to take action upon specific matters of association business submitted to the chapter by the Council or the officers of the national or state organizations; (5) to cooperate with the officers of the national and state organizations in dealing with professional problems, in order that the AAUP may be as representative of the profession as possible.


To be eligible for active membership in the Tennessee Tech Chapter of AAUP, one must be a member of the national organization.  The types of memberships and the process for joining are as follows:

  1. There shall be four classes of members:

a. Active Members. Any person who holds a professional position of teacher or researcher or related professional appointment, including any member of an AAUP-represented bargaining unit in a college, university, or professional school of similar grade accredited in the United States or Canada, may be admitted to active membership in the Association.

b. Graduate Student Members. Any person who is, or within the past five years has been a graduate student may be admitted to graduate student membership. Graduate student members shall have all rights and privileges accorded to active members under this Constitution, including the right to hold office and to vote in national elections.  Graduate student members shall be transferred to active membership as soon as they become eligible.

c. Retired Members.  An active member who retires may choose to be transferred to retired membership.  Retired members retain all rights and privileges accorded to active members under this Constitution, including the right to hold office and to vote in national elections.

d. Associate Members. Any active member of this chapter whose work is or becomes primarily administrative shall be eligible for associate membership. Any person not eligible for one of the other three classes of membership may be admitted as an associate member, including members of the general public.

2. The admission of members shall require two steps:

  1. Application
  2. Acceptance and Notification

 Chapter membership shall be for the academic year.


 The officers of this organization shall be a president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer.  These officers shall be elected annually at the last regular meeting in the spring and shall take office at the close of the meeting at which elected.  All officers serve one-year terms, with no term limit.


 There shall be an Executive Committee consisting of the president as presiding officer, the vice-president, the secretary, and the treasurer.


 This chapter shall maintain a standing committee on membership recruitment and retention.  Other standing committees may be created by the positive action of the chapter at a regular meeting, provided the establishment of such a committee has been discussed at least one previous meeting in the same academic year.

Ad hoc committees may be established by the chapter or the president at a regular meeting, of by the Executive Committee in session.


Regular chapter meetings shall be held three times per semester during the academic year.  Special meetings may be called by the Executive Committee, provided written notice has been extended to the membership at least four days prior to the meeting.


The rules of order contained in the latest edition of Robert’s Rules of Order, Newly Revised shall govern the parliamentary procedure of this organization whenever applicable, except that the constitution and by-laws of this chapter and the constitution of the national AAUP shall take precedence in the event of any inconsistency.


 By-laws to this constitution may be adopted as needed for the effective implementation of the provisions of this document.


This constitution may be amended at any regular meeting of the chapter by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting, provided that a copy of the proposed amendment has been sent to all members at least two weeks prior to the meeting at which the vote will take place, and further provided that the proposed amendment has been discussed at the previous regular meeting.



Since 1915 the AAUP has been promoting sound academic practices and working for those practices to be accepted by the higher education community, as well as by national and state legislators. In the interest of the common good, it defends academic freedom and tenure, advocates collegial governance, develops policies ensuring due process, backs affirmative action, and seeks the overall well-being of the profession.

The AAUP chapter at Tennessee Technological University promotes the activities and values of the AAUP on the state and campus level. We hold monthly business meetings to discuss topics pertaining to tenure, academic freedom, and shared governance.

To check out our concerns and contributions, click on the appropriate links. The national AAUP website carries even more news of importance to higher education, as well as many of the classic AAUP statements on academic freedom, etc., and up-to-date ones about currently hot topics such as the use and pay of part-time faculty members, distance education, independent boards, and intellectual property rights.

The AAUP has  about 45,000 members nationwide; TTU has about 40 members. Different kinds of membership are available to faculty members and others on campus and off.

Our goal is to provide the faculty of TTU an organized voice through which to discuss concerns and communicate issues.

Join the AAUP here: https://www.aaup.org/membership/join

Feb 2018 minutes

Minutes AAUP Meeting 2/13/2018


In attendance:  Jon Jonakin; Megan Atkinson; Ada Haynes; Josie McQuail; Julia Gruber; Kim Godwin; Ahsan Languri

Guest: Cassie Watters

Treasurer’s Report – Allen Driggers, via report: Balance in our account was $6,023.01.  Deposit today of $485.30 was not reflected in that.  Quarterly dues to AAUP national were just paid.  A check was written to cover a Red Book given to Dr. Mark Stephens.

The Treasury is healthy and stable.  The checking account address needs to be changed to Dr. Diggers.  Requests for reimbursements need to be made to the treasurer if there are any pending.

Membership report:  Kim Godwin: We have 37 members + 1 or 2.  The AAUP national membership list is problematic. There was some discussion about recruitment opportunities in the current climate.

Committee W – the gender equity study was given before the Faculty Senate by Ada Haynes and Troy Smith.  Some people first questioned it and then came around and seemed to accept it.  It has been on the Faculty Senate agenda but keeps getting tabled because of all of the other things going on on campus.  When it was given at the open forum there was a diverse group including students, faculty and administrators.  There were good comments and questions. Drs. Haynes and Smith are hoping to write up the information and statistics for a publication.  The editor of The Oracle called President Oldham and asked about Oldham being over paid and faculty underpaid.  President Oldham said he did not believe the study and said there are a lot of bad universities out there.  It seems the solution to the problem is now to find a different comparison for faculty – not to compare them to the national norm.  Dr. Haynes said that we hire nationally for faculty positions and this needs to be kept in mind.  Dr. Gruber asked if salary data is being sent to national AAUP.  This is important.  For the staff side Drs.  Smith and Haynes did their own comparison which showed they are NOT overpaid, but the only comparable group is community colleges.  Dr. Haynes said that if the administration starts picking and choosing comparison groups then the numbers lose validity.  Right now there are 3000 institutions in the comparison.  Dr. Haynes said she has never been told which CUPA figures are being applied or what exactly is being used by TTU in their salary comparisons.  Dr. Gruber reported that Acting Provost Mark Stephens had come to the same conclusions as Drs. Smith and Haynes’s study.  She noted that Dr. Stephens worked to get AAUP data and came to the presentations.  Dr. Jonakin asked if on the new committee set up by the university to study salaries there were any women?  Dr. Haynes said yes, and Dr. Jonakin asked if they were aware of the study?  Dr. Haynes said she was not sure.  Cassie Watters said students always seem to be uninformed about what goes on campus and suggested that the study be presented to the SGA (Student Government Association).

New Business – we need to change the bylaws to reflect meeting day changes voted on by AAUP.

Dr. Gruber said she wanted to conduct a new satisfactory survey regarding the TTU administration after the Fitzgerald Glider Engine controversy.  She pointed out that we never hear the results of the Administrators’ evaluations.  Dr. Gruber has asked for assistance on putting together a survey from faculty in Sociology and Political Science in order to establish objective and non-leading questions.  There was some debate about what type of survey instrument to use.  Dr. Haynes suggested Qualtrix.  Survey monkey was also discussed. There was concern expressed about privacy issues.  It was noted that staff is more nervous about stating opinions.  Cassie Watters and Kim Godwin both noted that the atmosphere on TTU campus is very fearful.

On the Fitzgerald Glider Engine controversy Dr. Jonakin pointed out that there seems to be a tendency to act with impunity on the part of administration, but in choosing an Inquiry Committee President Oldham and Dr. Soni recused themselves.  He asserted it depends on how rigorous this committee is what the results would be.  Dr. Sharon Huo is chairing it and Faculty Senate President Christy Killman met with her to discuss it. Dr. Joy was supposed to have some say on the formation of the committee.  Dr. Gruber stated that what was in question was the ethics behind the research – there seemed to be a conflict of interest and fraud in manipulation of data.  The letter that went to the EPA showed lack of instruments to even measure the things supposedly being measured.  With the firm of Fitzgerald financing the research and the promise of a center for TTU on their property there seemed a conflict of interest.  Benjamin Mohr was removed as Primary Investigator without being told.  The ethics of doing research and guidelines for the PI according to Dr. Haynes are very strictly regulated.  President Oldham’s signature.  Cassie Watters pointed out that the ethics in outsourcing is a problem, as with custodial outsourcing.  The lawyer from UT asked about ethics laws, and they seem to be weak- it’s only when the issues is exposed to the public that the public sees it for what it is: unethical.  Public exposure is important.

Next social:  The Lazy Cow, March 21.  There was a social also on Feb. 28 at the Red Silo.