Western Michigan University must move online.
As universities and colleges across the country open for in-person instruction, it has become clear that no plan can accommodate the recklessness of college students. Students will go to parties. Students will break social distancing both on and off campus. Students will spread COVID-19.
Students will behave irresponsibly in this pandemic. This is a fact that has been demonstrated wherever campuses have reopened. Students at Central Michigan University, for example, have created a public health emergency after less than three weeks in Mount Pleasant. While it is a sad fact that students cannot be trusted to behave safely—this cannot be ignored in WMU’s planning.
WMU has stated that its experience containing COVID-19 will be different than other schools because of rapid testing. In an email to students, the university claimed to have the most comprehensive plan in the state.
While WMU does have exceptional testing capabilities, testing does not address asymptomatic students. Students are expected to be tested before coming to campus, but what is there to stop an asymptomatic student from entering a dorm or the Bernhard Center later in the semester? Unless the asymptomatic student is aware they were exposed, they will likely go untested and thus unknowingly spread the disease. In this way, even with tests and contact tracing, a single asymptomatic case could easily spread like wildfire.
Currently, the university plans to reopen for in-person learning. Nonetheless, it has stated a commitment to keeping its students safe even if that means sending students home later in the semester. It is the position of the Western Herald that the pandemic will reach critical levels, for the reasons outlined above. Therefore, WMU must cancel in-person classes where possible and close the residence halls to the general student body before the new semester begins.
Considering the high likelihood of WMU shutting down later in the semester, it is disrespectful of students’ finances for the university to open up residence halls, collect room and board, only to close down and provide a partial refund. Instead, the university must move online immediately and issue a full refund of the semester’s room and board.
Students were disappointed but understanding when the university was only able to partially refund room and board in March. It was, after all, an unforeseen closure. If the university closes this fall, it will have been foreseeable, and the student body will be much less forgiving of partial refunds. Considering that the university is currently in a budget crisis, students will be left wondering if they were used for their money while the university knew they would have to close eventually. Several resident assistants have described reopening as a scam. We don’t know if it is a scam or not, but we do know it looks like one.
While students can choose to remain home this semester, the fact that many classes are still in-person means most students must come to campus to remain on-track for their expected graduation date. This is unacceptable. Students should not be asked to risk their health for their degree.
For these reasons, WMU must move online. All of us at the Western Herald wish we could open safely. We love our professors and our classes and, of course, our funding is tied to in-person enrollment. As much as we want to reopen though, we know now isn’t the time. Thus far we have seen nothing to inspire confidence that opening safely is a possibility.
It would be immature of us to put seeing friends and professors in-person over keeping our community safe. It would be greedy to put our funding above the health of the student body.
We hope WMU comes to see things the same way.