Members of staff at the University of Sheffield have taken to Twitter to vent dismay at the institution’s current Coronavirus strategy. 

Chris Millard, a Lecturer in the History of Medicine and Medical Humanity at the Department of History, used the social media platform to share an open letter addressed to University Vice Chancellor, Koen Lamberts.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he accused his employers of a “misguided” policy that “put the cart before the horse”. 

He argued that the University needs to change its focus away from reducing  transmission and look instead to prevent instances of virus exposure. 

He said: “It is repeated often by senior people across UK universities, that there is little evidence of transmission in seminar spaces. This perhaps because transmission  can very rarely be shown with any degree of certainty.”

He added that exposure  is more relevant than transmission in preventing spread and that there was a “growing scientific consensus that exposure [to the virus] happens when inside for longer than 15 minutes, even when inside wearing masks”.

Millard, who’s own mother-in-law died from coronavirus earlier this year, said he felt compelled to speak out because “structural, collective responses were the only way out of this nightmare”

He also expressed concern for staff employed on precarious fixed- term contracts who feel unable to speak out. 

Dr Millard’s open letter comes after reports that the University is using the forthcoming hiatus in face-to-face teaching to adjust social distancing parameters in seminar spaces from 1.5 to 2 metres. This would mean that if a member of a seminar group contracted Covid-19, in person teaching could still continue without the rest of that group having to self isolate. 

However, in-person teaching is still continuing today despite growing infection rates.

A spokesperson for Sheffield UCU, the trade union representing most university employees, said the new measures were a case of “too little, too late”. 

They added: “Nothing fundamental will change unless university management are prepared  to reduce the number of students who are required to be in Sheffield.

“The sharp rise in cases when students were brought back to campus was entirely predictable, and instead of adopting a proactive policy of online teaching from the start of term, this last minute policy means that lecturers and students are absorbing the difficulties of sudden implementation”. 

Another member of staff, Matthew Bishop, a senior lecturer at the Department of Politics tweeted this morning that he had received a positive Covid-19 diagnosis and claims he was infected in a seminar.

The UCU are now advising all of their members to check with line managers whether it is safe for them to teach before travelling to work today.

A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield said: “Students have told us about the benefits of learning together on campus and we will be working hard to resume these activities, whilst limiting the number of people on campus and keeping the risk of infection to a minimum.

“We are thankful to all our staff and students for their efforts to follow government guidelines and for continuing to play their part in keeping our University community as safe as possible.”

Forge Press understands University bosses made the decision to go online from Friday was made to allow staff time to make the online transition and to ensure no interruptions to students’ learning. 

A spokesperson from the University, said: “During this time our Covid-19 management team is looking into these measures and will be communicating them with staff and students in due course.” 

Image: Juliet Cookson

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