As 50,000+ new coronavirus cases were reported on Thursday in the United States, universities across the country are not letting that get in the way of reopening schools for the fall semester.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill plans to reopen its doors to approximately 40,000 students, faculty, and staff early in August with the hopes of completing the semester by Thanksgiving to avoid the dreaded second coronavirus wave.
UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz said the goal, via CBS’s 60 minutes, is to reduce density by downsizing lecture classes in addition to disinfecting athletic facilities, classrooms and dormitories regularly.
When it comes to the classes itself, Dr. Myron Cohen, the director of UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, highlighted the importance of wearing a mask and stated that all in-person classes will be “100 percent masked.”
So far, UNC has a good plan to limit possible transmission between students on campus and in a classroom setting. But that only makes up a small portion of every student’s time during the day.
Outside of the classroom and campus, the university has nothing aside from a “leaky” plan.
“Oh, it’s — it’s completely leaky,” said Cohen. “The students can go anywhere they’d like to go. And the most important thing is the leakiness matters less, under two conditions. We reduce the density. That is, we do not allow large numbers of people congregating and masks.”
So if an event is on campus, it is easy for the university to mandate that people wear masks and limit large gatherings. Simple enough. But students want to be social. How does the university envision students wearing masks and social distancing when someone throws a house party? You can’t stop all parties, especially when they are off-campus.
When 60 Minutes interviewer John Dickerson brings up the idea that the university is one keg party away from a problem, Cohen’s response is this:
“The entire campus will be trying to create environments where people are incredibly socially responsible. Humans are smart. Okay, these students are smart.”
To this point in the pandemic, America has not been smart. Let’s face it, America has been flat out dumb. How else would there be 50,000 new coronavirus cases in a day in our country while every other nation in the developed world has seemingly put the worst of the pandemic behind them (for now)? The answer is simple — there wouldn’t be.
In addition, UNC is home to college students – the single worst group at social distancing thus far in the pandemic.
In the most egregious example, students at the University of Alabama have been throwing parties and giving money to the first person to test positive after the party, per CNN. Seriously.
Cases are also exploding across the country for young people. And in North Carolina as well despite the fact that school isn’t in session and it has been about four months since the first wave of coronavirus even started.
So it makes you wonder. Why is the university trying to force an opening in August when so much uncertainty remains involving coronavirus?
“We would’ve been challenged financially to not reopen,” said Guskiewicz. “We — we know that many students would’ve perhaps taken a gap year or to defer their enrollment. But I want to emphasize that our decisions are based on creating that learning environment for students, where we know they can thrive and building in all of these measures for safety.”
The school needs its tuition money and it also needs its college football. Mack Brown is back for the Tar Heels and the college wants to see football on the field after finally fielding a good team that will surely bring in a ton of revenue. UNC is ranked No. 17 in the country by the NCAA.
“Well, football and basketball certainly provide an awful lot of revenue if not all of the revenue for our department,” said UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham via 60 Minutes. “We have 28 teams. We have 800 student-athletes. But we do need revenue to support our programs.”
Revenue is the bottom line.
The school needs it and the athletic department needs it. Now, that doesn’t mean that because there is a financial incentive, that school shouldn’t resume, but the current plan in place is rather unrealistic.
If everyone on campus followed the exact guidelines, then the plan in place would do the best at limiting risk, while still providing an education. But in the real world, college students aren’t going to adhere to that.
As a UNC student myself, I just spent the last two weeks on campus. If the two weeks are any indication, the plan that is in place now will fail miserably. Social distancing and mask-wearing are about as common amongst college students at UNC as wearing a Duke shirt.
But maybe the university doesn’t care. If everyone shows up day one, the school receives everyone’s tuition, and then an outbreak begins one month later, UNC can just move everything online while every student still pays full tuition.
But unfortunately, that will leave students with a subpar online education, in addition to an empty apartment for which students will still have to foot the bill.
And while this is just one example regarding the University of North Carolina, many college campuses will be making the same decision of choosing money over the well-being of its students.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the University of Georgia, where the university system doesn’t even require mask-wearing on its campuses.
Worse than that, no one yet knows the side effects that coronavirus might have. It isn’t just about life or death. There are reports of serious permanent damage that can occur after recovery.
“We’re starting now to hear about permanent injury to the lungs, to the… heart, the vascular system, permanent neurologic injury because of this virus,” Baylor College of Medicines’s Dr. Peter Hotez said via CNBC.
As everything stands now, universities are electing to put students and faculty at risk in order to maintain their bottom lines. The plan isn’t going to work, and universities know it. Yet they seem fine with it — as long as the checks cash before they have to once again shut down.
Other issues with UNC’s current plan
- Students’ mental and physical fitness
- With gyms likely closed and limited social interactions, physical and mental health could become a massive issue
- Tuition will still be full price for less than a full educational experience
- College is more than just going to class, you are paying for social experiences that transform you as a person
- and online classes shouldn’t be full price regardless
- Many students are from the state of North Carolina – more than 70 percent
- What will stop them from going home and possibly infecting their family or surrounding community members?
- 40,000 students, faculty and staff
- The risk of death might be minimal when there is one person. But with 40,000 people, the risk of at least one person dying is almost inevitable. How does the school take accountability for when/if someone dies or has serious and permanent health issues?
- And for the people at UNC who say that students will be smart enough to follow guidelines and rules obviously haven’t been around college kids. Last time I checked college kids were not waiting until they turned 21 to start drinking.
- Not only that, but students are also getting taken advantage of from housing. Students are having to pay for full-year leases without knowing if they are going to be on campus or not come the fall. If classes get canceled after two weeks, after UNC collects all its tuition, students will be left with a full-year lease and an apartment sitting idle on campus.
Ryan is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill majoring in Business Journalism. He has written in the past for SB Nation’s Silver and Black Pride, USA Today Sports Media Group, North Carolina Business News Wire, the Daily Tar Heel, and has worked with Ice Cube’s BIG3 basketball league.
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