Top Social Menu


The Point: Something in the Air


Greetings, Colleagues:

Plenty of you actually ARE scientists but for the rest of us, it has been a steep hill to climb over the past couple of years as we have all been pressed to become amateur virologists and public health experts.  It wasn’t that long ago, really, that I did not know the difference between droplets and aerosolized particles, and I am sure that in 2020 I had no idea what “air changes per hour” (ACH) meant: I want to start this week’s Point with a note of gratitude for those colleagues (I’m thinking especially of a few people in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences and School for the Environment) who have shared their expertise on these matters.  Now I understand that there is Something in the Air—and it’s not good.

I also want to express gratitude to the colleagues who have been working hard over the past week to organize a two-day informational action this coming week, on Wednesday and Thursday from 8-4, to call attention to the poor air quality in Wheatley: please join if you can! All of us who teach or have offices in Wheatley had a pretty good idea about what the report would find, right?  And we are still waiting, of course, for the report on the major leaks we all know about—and all the possible attendant mildew and mold, right?

You will be seeing fliers and hearing more soon but I wanted to get your attention as early as possible:  the report commissioned by the MTA makes it clear that the air in Wheatley—from first floor classrooms to various bathrooms—is simply not healthy. If you don’t have time to read the whole report, do have a look at the summary prepared by our colleagues organizing this week’s action—it is remarkably stark and efficient.  (And seriously: if you are someone who regularly uses the women’s room on the 6th floor of Wheatley, you might reconsider this.) 

To be honest, we should all have been agitating for better air years ago.  Well-established research has long made it clear that better air in school buildings not only contributes to better long-term health, but also to improved learning.  The conclusions offered by the MTA report could not be plainer: “The HVAC at Wheatley Hall needs to be updated if regular activities with normal room occupancy are to be continued.”

What I think our colleagues organizing this action want us to remember is that the pandemic is not over and that many people in our community are particularly vulnerable to the worst short- and long-term effects of the virus.  Numerous public health experts and commentators in the disability community have implored all of us to resist the so-called Urgency of Normal. Here’s a powerful challenge from a Canadian public health expert:

Removing masks and other COVID protections without addressing indoor air quality, while a more contagious BA.2 sub-variant is spreading through the air, is nothing short of reckless. It is especially so when the….human rights commissioner has raised the alarm over the negative effects of these policies on marginalized groups, including “immunocompromised people, older people, Indigenous and racialized peoples, people with disabilities, and low-income communities”, without forgetting people suffering from multiple chronic conditions and our children under five for whom a vaccine has yet to be authorized.

At the recent campus update event our Chancellor suggested an approach to our current situation that I believe was a paraphrase of Dr. Ashish Jha.  Think of your mask as an umbrella, the Chancellor told us.  Be ready to wear it in case the rain starts again.  But leading indicators suggest that we are already experiencing showers.  Here’s the most recent North System wastewater data—processed just across from campus at Deer Island. It is a little puzzling to sort out why the mask mandate was dropped on campus—there was strong union opposition across the university and no evident clamor from any substantial constituency to give up masks.  It remains our job—and in fact our moral responsibility— as faculty and staff committed to supporting the health of our entire campus and surrounding community, to ask hard questions about this top-down decision-making process. 

This is your union: please let us know at what ideas you have about working towards a healthier campus.


Jeffrey Melnick (

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage