Evidence shows Georgia universities pressured by private dorm contractors to open in spite of soaring COVID cases, public outcry
On USG campuses across the state, campus workers and students have been confounded by Universities’ insistence on carrying out plans to reopen in spite of surging COVID-19 cases and conflicting guidance from public health experts at the CDC. Yesterday, a new piece of information provided evidence that the University System of Georgia (USG) is being pressured to reopen by the private contractor who has multi-decade contracts to run many USG dorms. The contractor, Corvias Group LLC, bought over $500 million in debt from USG in 2014 and built multiple dorms on nine USG campuses. Corvias now opposes the idea of students studying remotely or reducing dorm capacity because it will not profit if USG dorms are empty.
In documents obtained by a student through an open records request Corvias informed Georgia’s Board of Regents (BOR), which runs the USG universities, that Corvias’ contract with USG “does not give the BOR the unilateral right to... take actions that would either (a) prevent students at the Institutions from living on Campus, or (b) have the intent and effect of discouraging students at the Institutions from living on campus.” Covias continued, “while the CDC may be of the belief that reducing density in student housing may lower the possibility of infection, we do not believe that requires a reduction in the number of roommates that would typically be permitted in the Phase I Student Housing or the number of students that can be housed in a given building.” Corvias insisted “they have not accepted the risk of unilateral actions by BOR that would negatively impact Phase 1 Student Housing fee revenues.”
“This explains so much,” said Rebekah Ward, Associate Professor of Biology at Georgia Gwinnett College. “We couldn’t figure out why USG would insist on fully opening its campuses despite Georgia’s raging virus outbreak. Now we know what’s happening. Corvias will lose money if students study remotely and it is trying to force USG to keep students in the dorms, despite the risks.”
The United Campus Workers of Georgia calls on the USG to make any communication between Corvias and the BOR or USG staff related to the fall reopening plans public, as well as any BOR or USG internal documents about the Corvias reopening interests. The public deserves to see any documents that reflect pressures from private companies with an interest in profit to return to face-to-face instruction in the middle of a public health emergency. We know that Corvias is not the only company with a stake in profit from public higher education in Georgia.
The UCWGA is a union of campus employees--staff, faculty, and students--on USG campuses. The union, which has been pushing for living wages and for a reduction in graduate students’ fees, has lately been pushing USG to reopen safely. Its petition to that effect has garnered over 12,000 signatures.
For more information, please contact:
Jill Penn, Georgia Gwinnett College faculty, UCWGA board member: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Magerko, Georgia Tech faculty, UCWGA member: email@example.com
Released to the press, August 6th, 2020