By Eli Hughes–
The University of Louisville Student Government Association sent a letter to the U of L administration expressing their concerns with the return to campus for the fall 2020 semester.
The letter was signed by the SGA ‘top four’ Student Body President Sabrina Collins, Executive Vice President Lexi Raikes, Academic Vice President Ben Barberie and Services Vice President Henrietta Ransdell.
“The original plan to return to campus in the fall was founded in optimism. In the early planning stages, our committees planned in the hopes that the COVID-19 situation would improve by August; however it is clear that the pandemic has only worsened,” the letter said.
“With this in mind, it is essential to reevaluate our original plan with student, faculty and staff safety as the top priority.”
The letter went on to detail the concerns that SGA has heard from students. They claim that many students are untrustworthy of U of L and some worry that U of L is waiting for the billing period to pass before changing the in-person instruction plan.
Other concerns include the cancellation of the IBM Watson Health Project, that residents will not be informed of positive cases in their buildings and the inability of the university to fully put a stop to parties.
The SGA ‘top four’ then explained that re-opening campus would put certain minority groups who are already more vulnerable to COVID-19 at further risk.
The letter also acknowledged that another mid-semester shift to online-only courses isn’t fair, as many students struggled with the transition last year.
“We hear from students daily who view another mid-semester shift as a ‘worst-case scenario.’ Our constituents constantly ask us to ‘rip the bandaid off’ and tell them if we think classes will be online. Unfortunately, we have no answers to give,” they said in the letter.
The letter concluded by reiterating that SGA is no longer in favor of in-person classes for the fall semester.
Several members of the U of L administration responded to SGA’s letter, including Executive Vice President and Provost Beth Boehm, Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation Kevin Gardner, Executive Director of Campus Health Services Phil Bressoud and Chief Operating Officer Mark Watkins.
“We know this is an extremely difficult time for students, faculty and staff at U of L and higher education institutions across the country,” they said in the letter. “In this letter we want to respond to the concerns you have expressed.”
They recognized that the original plan was made in a different time as far as COVID-19 cases in Kentucky but said that they were constantly working to update the plan as new information came out.
The university’s letter went on to remind students that they had the option to take all of their classes online if they were uncomfortable with returning to campus. Administration said that while U of L has a plan for mass testing and contact tracing, they are not in favor of mandatory testing because it can lead to students becoming complacent and engaging in high-risk behaviors.
They addressed the concerns with the cancellation of the IBM Watson Health Project by saying that the product was not necessary and they have used the money they would have spent on it to hire more contact tracers and buy a product that would help students check their symptoms daily.
The letter also addressed the concern of not notifying students of infected people in their dorms, citing that HIPAA constraints keep them from publicly sharing health information of students.
They went on to list several precautions that will reduce COVID-19 risk on campus such as devoting $150,000 monthly to campus-wide disinfection, limiting the amount of in-person classes and providing rooms for quarantine both through campus housing and hotels if necessary.
“We have a critical mission to serve. Whether through in-person, online or hybrid courses, we are committed to providing the best education possible despite the obstacles presented by COVID,” the university said. “We are committed to offering that outstanding educational experience while creating and maintaining the best possible environment for our students, faculty and staff.”
They concluded the letter ensuring SGA that they discussed all of the concerns within their letter, but that their discussions led them to believe that they were prepared for a return to campus for fall semester.
Collins, a senior, told the Cardinal that SGA appreciated that the administration took the time to respond to their letter and address their concerns. She said that she also believed the meetings that she had with administration during the days following the letter response were helpful even though she still has concerns.
The biggest concerns Collins has heard from students were related to being unsure of what this semester would look like.
“A lot of the concern stems from the uncertainty of the moment and if we are going to switch online mid-semester,” she said.
Collins also wanted to tell students to check their emails regularly for COVID-19 updates and remind them that they can reach out to [email protected] if they need a template for requesting to take a hybrid-course online or any further help with that process.
File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal