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Guest opinion

UA staffer: I will not 'bear down' because I can no longer 'bear' it

University of Arizona employee voices concerns about plans during COVID-19 pandemic

Anyone else have to cut themselves off from reading the news every day? Like, you start to catch up on stuff, fall down some rabbit holes, and then suddenly realize you’re so darn angry/ terrified/ disappointed/ disappointed in yourself for being disappointed in the first place because that means you had expectations that it’s actually making you feel ill?

Yeah, me too.

I bet you and I are similar in lots of ways. I’m sure we both don’t want a ton of people to die, and that we both hope that folks in positions of power have a similar or greater concern for public health and safety.

I’m an employee at the University of Arizona, like lots of others. My salary is at a fairly standard level, and my workload is comparable to a lot of other folks. Maybe you aren’t feeling as tired as I am of old white dudes who love to golf being in charge. Maybe you’re one of them. I can’t decide if I’m more tired of old white dudes or the term “new normal” or the phrase “now more than ever” or complaining about people who don’t wear face masks when they leave the house.

Anyway, I have a feeling you aren’t enraged enough about the state of affairs at the UA (I refuse to call it UArizona on principle). If you are, then please spread your rage and make other people in your life care about this.

You don’t have to be a Wildcat for Life to feel invested in the direction of the UA, nor do you have to enjoy making that dumb “WC” sign with your hand.

They’re the largest employer in Tucson, and the tendrils of this institution are basically everywhere. Even if you’ve never stepped foot on campus, it’s totally possible you’ve gotten a parking ticket from them. You probably know at least one person who works and/or is a student here.

I’m not an expert, but I imagine that the decisions made by this institution have significant impacts upon the entire Tucson community. Also, I’m writing this in an attempt to get my feelings out, because being this mad feels like it’s bad for my health. I’m sure our brand-new, first-ever wellness officer and new provost would agree.

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By the way, it’s a little strange to hear about this new position in the same month that a bunch of bookstore employees and writing instructors have been quietly laid off.

Judging from the numbers, there’s a good chance you missed out Wednesday on the inaugural edition of what has been touted as a weekly installment wherein President Doctor Robert “Bobby” Robbins, cardiothoracic surgeon, ostensibly gives “updates” about plans for campus “reentry” via livestream (during a recent meeting, an astute faculty member noted that “reentry” is an unfortunate word choice, given that the word is most commonly used within the context of spacecraft, reentry being easily the most treacherous part of the entire journey).

Don’t worry if you missed it, though. Very little in the way of specifics was provided, which is alarming since the fall 2020 semester is a scant three months away.

The first part of what my colleague correctly pointed out was more of a press conference than a campus update felt like stumbling into the middle of a weird new Netflix original series about old white dudes in positions of power who are buddies and probably golf together at least once a week. The entire content of the show is just the two buddies telling each other all the reasons why they think they are rad and also great leaders. We would never run out of guests to feature on a show like that, eh?

The rest of the press conference was a question and answer session. Questions were gathered in advance, and there were also people in attendance who were given time to ask questions. There were not that many questions at all, because most people didn’t even realize that this press conference was happening. Not to worry, though. Every single person on campus did receive Dr. Bobby’s extremely important update yesterday around 3 p.m. about changes to the alumni and development programs.

I’m sure it just slipped everyone’s minds to publicize a live conversation between former Surgeon General and recently announced leader of the reentry effort Rich Carmona and Dr. Bobby about decisions about something as minor as reopening a campus of tens of thousands of folks in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic — something that definitely affects the “UA family of 60,000” Dr. Bobby has referred to many times.

It’s OK that the Q&A portion of the program wasn’t as robust as some of us would have liked. Rich Carmona helpfully states that he “gets the sense from students” that they want to return to campus. And both men talked a lot about data and safety and the three T’s. We are in good hands. They think we’re probably going to return to campus in some type of hybrid model, but they’re still working out the details. By the way, did you know that the fall semester starts on August 24? And how ‘bout that testing blitz? Did you get tested? No? Don’t even know how to sign up? Well, you must be mistaken, because I heard 60,000 folks were gonna get tested.

Not sure if you noticed that Dr. Bobby Robbins has been making the rounds on national media lately. He’s been working so hard — almost as hard as the custodial staff who don’t even get Winter Recess as PTO and apparently have been cleaning the campus for the past two and a half months nonstop — getting up at 4 a.m. to get his hair and makeup done for East Coast media appearances. It does seem impressive that the UA gets to be highlighted as a premier research institution who is also a pioneering decision-maker in the midst of this global pandemic on the Today Show, MSNBC, ABC, CNBC and Fox News.

You might wonder how these media spots were secured in the first place. Well, as it turns out, the UA Foundation wanted to help Dr. Bobby and the UA, because the feeling was that a lot of students out there need to be more connected to the UA. So they decided to gift him the services of a consulting company called Cavalry LLC. They have done some great work for Mitch McConnell and the GOP.

I’m not gonna cite the university policies about working with partisan organizations, because I’m super tired from being so angry. But you know it’s wrong anyway. I don’t need to tell you this. Furthermore, there are complicated rules about other stuff related to the foundation, what it should and should not spend money on, and how it’s determined that one company is selected over another. I’m sure at least some of those rules were broken. Come on, we aren’t dummies, right? Just look at who they are and see if you think they wouldn’t have a partisan agenda or any incentive to steer the national conversation toward a “return to normal” by using a fantastic spokesperson, the leader of one of the largest research universities in the country. Just look at Dr. Bobby’s face and try to tell me you aren’t sick of old white dudes being in charge. I wish I could hunt him and his buddies down at the golf course and empty the menstrual blood from my eco-friendly OrganiCup all over their ugly-ass golf clothes and then take a picture of it and post it everywhere so it becomes a viral meme about how much old white dudes who golf suck.

Maybe you aren’t mad about Cavalry LLC because you’re a Republican or a Mitch McConnell fan. Then perhaps I can direct your attention to our specials board. The entree today is a simple but classic Top Heavy Institution Where the Bigwigs are Paid Way Too Much and the Staff Are Paid Way Too Little.

Sorry that the name is a little bit clunky.

The UA has a lot of folks in very highly paid positions, and then way way more folks in very meagerly paid positions. Do you know anybody who lives paycheck to paycheck? Because I have met a ton of them at the UA. It’s weird though, because tuition is like, really high? I’m not going to show you any charts or spew any numbers at you, because I’m not a financial expert and I also don’t feel like it. I’m also pretty chart-ed out these days, you know? Looking at all those non-flat curves? I’m probably just bitter about not being able to live at no personal cost in a UA-owned million-dollar house in Sam Hughes that has a gym. Or maybe I’m mad that I’m not buddies with Dr. Bobby, which means he won’t ever score me a sweet and also extremely atypical five-year contract for a position that pays a cool $865K per year even if I’m not the most qualified applicant. Actually, I’m more angry about the fact that the dude supplements his $865K income with a six-figure consulting gig on the side. Actually, I’m more enraged about the lawsuit that’s been filed against the university due to alleged discrimination and retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation.

I’m not asking you to agree with me, but I do hope that at the very least, this information makes you feel concerned enough to pay attention to the decisions that are being made at the UA.

There’s a growing number of voices in higher education who are unequivocally stating that there is no responsible or safe way to return to campus in the fall.

The people who will suffer from such a disastrous decision the most are the most vulnerable, and we have a responsibility as a public, land-grant institution to stick up for choices that take into account the wellness of our entire community.

Join those of us that are feeling fed up with the lack of transparency and the performative emptiness of repeating phrases about “safety” and “data-driven decision making” without anything concrete to back those assertions up. There are a lot of hotshots who have signed this Academic Solidarity Pledge. Check it out and see if you end up caring a little more about what’s happening here.

After all, Dr. Bobby said the decision to bring students back to campus is a question of “risk versus reward.” I believe the “reward” to which he refers is monetary, and I’m pretty sure you are already aware of what he’s referring to as the “risk.”

“No I Will Not Bear Down” is a University of Arizona employee who requested we protect their identity.

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UA President Robert Robbins