Photo of the seal on the oval

Ohio State’s faculty council approved a resolution Thursday to amend the Together as Buckeye’s pledge to clarify it is not a waiver of liability. | Credit: Lantern file photo

The Faculty Council approved a resolution to change the Together As Buckeyes Pledge Thursday to make it clear that it is optional to sign and not a liability waiver.

The resolution clarifies language in the pledge, stating that signing the pledge is not mandatory and if signed, does not serve as a waiver or assumption of risk, although signing the pledge was “mandatory” to return to campus, according to a July 24 universitywide email. It also retroactively applies the change to the 88 percent of students, faculty and staff who already signed the pledge.

“The purpose behind the revised pledge is just simply to clarify publicly in a specific way both of these points,” Jill Galvan, associate professor in the Department of English and council member, said.

The university announced repercussions for failing to sign the pledge in its July 24 Safe and Healthy Campus guidance.

“Students who decide not to sign the pledge will be alerted by Student Conduct using an automated/email process that they have five (5) days to sign the pledge,” the guidance stated. “If they do not sign the pledge within five (5) days, they will only be permitted to take courses virtually, may not schedule a move-in time (if intending to live on-campus), may not physically enter any campus or university facility, and may not physically participate in any university activity on or off campus.”

Unlike students who can currently face repercussions for not signing the pledge, the university was never able to enforce signing among faculty and staff, Susan Cole, chair of the faculty council, said. All students, faculty and staff are subject to abide by the COVID-19 precautions outlined in the return to campus training.

“They can enforce the pledge signing on students and they can enforce the behaviors on everybody,” Cole said. 

According to a Sept. 24 email to University Senate members obtained by The Lantern, Executive Vice President and Provost Bruce McPheron said that the university would “not be altering the pledge” due to its widespread acceptance. As of Sept. 24, more than 94,500 students, faculty and staff signed the pledge.

The resolution adds the following passage to the pledge:

“Your signature on this pledge is not required, and signing this pledge is not a waiver of your legal rights to seek remedies for harm or loss from transmission of COVID-19 and does not constitute an assumption of risk. Your signature affirms your commitment to and observance of the University’s procedures for maintaining everyone’s health and safety,” the resolution reads.

The change comes following criticism of the pledge from faculty members of the Ohio State University Association of University Professors. In an Aug. 18 Letter to the Editor, the Ohio State AAUP called on the university to revise the pledge to clarify it is not a waiver of “the right of a safe workplace” or an assumption of risk. 

“I think it should bring peace of mind in knowing that if the resolution is changed, as stated in the resolution, the pledge is not giving up someone’s legal rights,” John Blackburn, associate professor in the Fisher College of Business and president of the Ohio State AAUP, said. “It returns the pledge to what it really was intended to be, and that is a pledge to come together as a community.”

The resolution will be forwarded to the University Senate for final approval.