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COVID-19 Testing Pathway data reporting error draws mixed responses from OU faculty

As more Ohio University students, faculty and staff complete their required COVID-19 Testing Pathway surveys, a recent error in OU’s data reporting has led to questions surrounding the university’s data gathering procedures. 

On Aug. 24, Gillian Ice, special assistant to the president for public health operations, announced in a university-wide email the vaccination rates of students, faculty and staff on all of OU’s campuses. Although 74.9% of residential students on OU’s Athens campus were vaccinated at that time, nearly 50% of faculty had not yet responded to the survey, the university reported. 

Days later, on Aug. 27, Ice sent another email to the university community apologizing for an error that occurred in the data gathering process. According to her email, the dataset the university used was not filtered for temporary faculty who are not currently active instructors at OU. The actual vaccination rates of faculty were 83.7%, with 13.3% of faculty having not completed their pathway selection at the time, Ice reported. 

“We deeply apologize for sending misinformation and for any angst that we caused students, faculty, staff, families, and the community,” Ice said in the email. “We take full responsibility for not identifying this error.”

Joe McLaughlin, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences and the vice president of OU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, or OU-AAUP, said he was not surprised the data were wrong. Speaking from his experience alone, he said the university has long focused on gathering and utilizing data but has struggled with inconsistencies.

“I do believe a significant amount of what we call ‘administrative bloat’ at the university is tied to all of our activities around creating, collecting, curating (and) analyzing data,” McLaughlin said. “We seem to be much more obsessed with measurement than we do with judgment.”

Another issue McLaughlin observed with the university’s data gathering techniques involves the monetary price to OU for collecting it. Given the amount of money the university spends on data, he said, he expects OU to be better at handling it. 

Ice said the data used by OU is pulled from five different databases, including information on students and employees as well as Qualtrics data from the Testing Pathway Program. Because no dataset is perfect, she said, using multiple datasets makes it difficult to identify errors in a timely manner. 

Robin Muhammad, chair of OU Faculty Senate, said she understood how the mistake could have happened based on Ice’s explanation. While she wasn’t concerned about the accuracy of sources for the data, combining sources makes data reporting much more complex, she said.

Despite the mistake, Muhammad had a positive view of Ice’s response to the situation. 

“The recovery, I think, was rapid in the sense of acknowledging that a mistake was made and being public and transparent about it and apologizing for it and then moving on,” Muhammad said.

In response to McLaughlin’s concerns regarding cost to the university, Carly Leatherwood, a university spokesperson, said it would be nearly impossible to know the true cost because the university doesn’t value human resources in such a way that would allow for calculating the financial impact. 

According to OU’s COVID-19 dashboard last updated Sept. 3, 77.2% of Athens’ 6,140 on campus students have declared they are vaccinated. Of Athens’ 11,861 off campus students, 64.3% are vaccinated. 

Regarding faculty, updated numbers show 86.7% of Athens campus faculty are vaccinated, and 85.8% of faculty are vaccinated university-wide.

Muhammad said she’s glad faculty are getting vaccinated at high rates but hopes to see an increase, especially with the university’s recently enacted mandate for all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 15. 

“87% is great,” Muhammad said. “100% would be fantastic.”

Though Ice acknowledged and apologized for the data reporting error, she hopes the university community can understand the mistake was a result of her workload.

“I hope that everyone gives me some grace because I have been working nonstop for this entire period in crazy hours and managing a million different things,” Ice said. “The whole thing is very unfortunate, and I wish it didn't happen.”


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