Six Paragraphs between Joseph Chamberlain and Alice in Chains

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by Jaclyn Pittsley, President

To paraphrase Joseph Chamberlain, who is said to have originally made his quip in a letter in 1936, we here at Cortland and across the globe are experiencing life in an interesting age. Though the story is probably apocryphal, Chamberlain would be correct, were he speaking of the COVID 19 pandemic.

Since March, members and our intercontinental brothers and sisters have been rising to the challenge of working and teaching remotely to prevent the spread of this virus, and we continue to do so today. We have been meeting the needs of our state and of our country, from those working at our hospitals, to those working in our information resources areas, to those providing student-facing services, and those teaching using new and temperamental virtual platforms.

Armed with recommendations from the Center for Disease Control, Cortland folks stood together.  We have completed a spring semester fraught with unprecedented hardships, and we have begun a semester full of uncertainty, changing rules, and frightened students and colleagues.

We are watching with heavy hearts and bated breath as Oneonta has experienced a record-setting surge in infection rates and was forced to close their campus. We are also keeping in our thoughts our brothers and sisters at Oswego as they move into a “two-week pause” as infection rates reached their “100 cases in two weeks” threshold. We empathize with their struggles and prepare to support them, should spread of the disease have long-lasting personal, financial, and collective consequences. We hope we here at Cortland are doing enough to avoid a similar challenge. And we grieve: we grieve for the brothers and sisters who have led the charge, put themselves in harm’s way, and devoted their lives to helping the ill. We grieve for lost colleagues, family members, and friends; we cast about searching meaning in the tragedy, and we prepare to continue on in their stead.

UUP supports the work or our Cortland members in many ways, both locally and statewide. UUP has held a series of Open House events and will continue to hold virtual events monthly where members can share their concerns, fears, and frustrations. Please do reach out to your union. In UUP, you will always have a voice and be recognized. UUP has maintained constant and plentiful communication with members of Management at Cortland, in order to represent the interests of our members, as the Return to Work plan was being drafted and implemented.  UUP Cortland leadership has continued its monthly Labor Management meetings all summer, in cooperation with Management, and we have continued to have our monthly Executive Board meetings throughout the summer. UUP continues to ask about the financial footing of our university and the SUNY system. We keep a close watch on our campus and statewide COVID 19 Dashboards. UUP has been in contact weekly with our statewide leadership, sharing concerns and issues at all campuses in an attempt to normalize and strategize our efforts.

At the statewide level, UUP has negotiated a Telecommuting Agreement that is in effect through October, and UUP continues to advocate for its extension until December 31. UUP advocates the wide and flexible interpretation of this document in order to do our absolute best to prevent the spread of COVID 19. UUP has also negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement regarding mandatory surveillance testing of all employees, working with our various hospitals (Cortland is working with SUNY Upstate) to help identify asymptomatic individuals, who can then be quarantined while the virus runs its course, so that others are not infected. This is an important step in keeping members who are working on campus and students who are learning on campus safe.

Every member has been putting in extra time, doing extra work, and acting in a greater capacity; we have all been doing our part to make certain that young people can attend and live at SUNY Cortland, so they can have a college experience this fall that is as similar as possible to a normal college learning experience. I am very proud of our members and of our UUP leadership. Without your long nights, superhuman effort, and estimable character, SUNY Cortland would not be in the cautiously optimistic position we are today.

In their 1992 album, Alice in Chains sing, in their largely acoustic song Got me Wrong, that “Something’s gotta turn out right,” and in this Chapter President’s humble opinion, I believe we can feel positive and hopeful about several things. One, we are still here. Our campus is open today, and our students are in class this morning. And, the longer we are open, the more likely it is we will remain open, even if we have to “pause” at some point. Two, our COVID 19 testing procedures and protocol are underway, and so far, no employee pool has been found to have tested positive. Three, everyone, and I mean every single person, at Cortland has risen and continues to rise to the pandemic challenges of social distancing, teaching, socializing, meeting, doing research, conducting business, comforting others, wearing a mask, answering questions, asking questions, being patient, being kind, being mindful, and being brave.

I believe we are seeing the best of ourselves now, in this interesting age, and that is most certainly right.