When there’s a COVID-19 outbreak at UMD, blame the administration

When the University of Maryland’s fall semester starts on Aug. 31 and students are back on the campus, there will be nothing the university can do to stop an outbreak of COVID-19. There is no herd immunity or vaccine yet, hundreds of new cases in Maryland every day and hundreds of active cases in Prince George’s County — and, in the middle of this chaos, this university is welcoming thousands of students and employees onto its campus.

So, when the reopening accelerates the virus’s spread and the inevitable outbreak on campus threatens the health of hundreds of students, staff and faculty, know that this university’s administration is to blame. 

Other schools that have tried to reopen have failed miserably, with dangerous repercussions. Michigan State and Notre Dame have already suspended in-person classes after cases began to surge. And the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was forced to cancel its plans for an in-person semester after well over 100 students tested positive in the first week. In a scathing editorial, the editorial board of its student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, wrote, “We all saw this coming.” The same is true in College Park. Everyone can see the outbreak coming, yet university President Darryll Pines and the rest of the administration are choosing to stay the course, knowing full well at this point the consequences that will meet the decision. 

The move to reopen isn’t coming out of nowhere. The University System of Maryland has been pushing its member institutions to plan a hybrid fall semester since May. And a dearth of public funding — which has been worsened by the pandemic — has left the university overly reliant on money from tuition and room and board. Housing revenue depends on students coming to campus and living in the university’s dorms. 

But chasing that money means literally risking lives and contributing to the spread of the virus in the state and the county — an area that has already been hit hard. Jeopardizing the health of the community by reopening is unconscionable, especially considering that, with about 86 percent of undergraduate course sections already fully online, there is no need to invite most students back at all.

When there is an outbreak on the campus — and there will be — the responsibility lies with this university’s leadership. University officials have already started shifting the blame for a potential outbreak on students. University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman has said that the success of reopening depends on the students. Similarly, Pines said in a recent statement that “our success will rest on the active participation of every one of you. If one person does not comply with requirements, it jeopardizes everyone’s health and safety.” Pines doubled down on this sentiment in a campuswide email Thursday.

Let there be no confusion: Pines and the rest of the university’s leadership are the ones knowingly facilitating the spread of the coronavirus and risking the health of the university community. 

Of course, students who are behaving recklessly should know better. They are at fault as well. But there is no way around the fact that they are only allowed back on the campus because of the willful ignorance of the administration. And it’s not just students at this university who will get sick — workers are fearing for their health while the university is refusing to bargain with them for better protections. 

So in a few weeks from now, when students and employees are getting sick and College Park is overwhelmed by the virus, remember who’s really to blame.

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