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Winthrop faculty and staff moving back on campus March 15, employees feeling “forced”

Updated: Mar. 9, 2021 at 8:31 PM EST
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) -Vaccinations are going up in South Carolina.

It may give you the excitement of one day soon returning to a normal life, but that enthusiasm isn’t shared among some faculty at Winthrop University in Rock Hill.

Professors and staff are bracing to soon return to in-person learning. The university has made this three-phase education timeline. Students and staff may soon enter Phase 3 -- a full return to normal in-person operations. It has left many feeling they’re moving too fast.

Winthrop University feels its hands are tied from the latest executive order.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered all state agencies to return to how they were pre-pandemic. For the university, that looks like bringing all faculty and staff back on campus for the first time in a year.

The state’s Department of Administration approved Winthrop’s plan on Tuesday. A letter sent to the faculty and staff from the interim president confirmed that. The executive order, which was released on Thursday, has to show how the university plans on bringing everyone back “immediately.”

The order asks for all non-essential employees to come back full-time. Winthrop’s interim president sent out a letter to faculty and staff telling them they had to return on Saturday.

The return includes people who are vulnerable, living with kids going to school or both. The letter goes on to say work from home is not an option for most people. Winthrop professor Dr. Scott Huffmon says he does not understand the rush.

”To force people back, it doesn’t make a lot of sense in so far as if we come back and that causes some type of spike then that could put a monkey wrench in our plans,” he says Huffmon.

Huffmon wants to get back to his political science students more than most. ”A year ago none of this was expected. And it hit us very suddenly. But the university dealt with it quickly and well,” he says.

Huffmon thought that until now. Winthrop’s interim president says everyone, no matter the person’s COVID-19 risk, has to come back to in-person soon.

”If a person can do the majority of their job from home there’s really no reason to force them back,” he says. “This seems to be an interruption of the slow progress we were making.”>

WBTV reached out the university for comment. They did not get back with me but I was shown this letter sent to faculty and staff on Tuesday. Here is the letter:

The interim president says most Winthrop employees will return to campus by next Monday. Classes will stay online or hybrid despite the return.

”We miss our students desperately,” says Huffmon. “We want to go but some of us are just afraid we’re jumping the gun in a way that might prevent that from happening in the fall.”

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