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President Paxson addresses coronavirus concerns at faculty meeting

Administrators confirm no current cases on campus, discuss further measures

At Tuesday’s monthly faculty meeting, President Christina Paxson P’19 urged faculty not to panic because of the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Rhode Island and said that the University is “going to be prepared” if the virus reaches campus.

Paxson told faculty to help students understand “that this is not the plague, this is not the end of the world and to keep calm.”

Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey confirmed that there are no current presumed or confirmed cases of coronavirus at the University and discussed what measures the University is taking to prepare for the possibility of community members contracting the virus. He announced that a page with continuing updates on the state of the virus nearby will be linked on the front page of the University’s website because it is “a very fluid situation” that is “changing rapidly.” He also assured faculty that the University is taking protective measures in conjunction with Health Services and the Rhode Island Department of Health to insure the safety of the community.

Provost Richard Locke P’18 told faculty to take special precautions in the classroom and not to come to work if they were feeling sick. He said that faculty should be prepared to use tools from the Brown Center for Digital Scholarship and Zoom Web Conferencing to teach their classes over video chat if necessary.

Also during the meeting, Paxson emphasized the need to take a stance on the issue of investing in companies that emit large amounts of carbon emissions. Paxson confirmed that the University has removed 90 percent of its investments in fossil fuel companies. Still, Paxson said that it is not possible to sell all investments in these companies since the University holds indirect investments that are difficult to identify.

Assistant Provost for Sustainability Stephen Porder also outlined revisions to the Strategic Sustainability Plan draft, which he presented for the first time at an open forum last month, The Herald previously reported. Porder, who is also a professor of Environment and Society and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, announced a faculty forum to discuss the plan in more detail, to be held March 18.

Locke also announced a one-year pilot program for stricter accountability for faculty references. Under the program, new junior faculty hires will be required to check a box in their applications if they have committed code of conduct violations at previous academic jobs. Checking the box will not immediately eliminate candidates, according to Locke. Instead, it will allow the University to “take a closer look” at candidates’ behavior when considering potential hires. In the case of senior faculty, there will be a new system of connections in which the University will contact the dean’s office at candidates’ former employers to check for conduct violations. Locke said he hopes the policy will help “safeguard our community in a way that will not hurt the hiring process.”


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