President Pines can’t claim ignorance when the COVID-19 outbreak hits

University President Darryll Pines talks to students outside of Terrapin's Turf. (Rina Torchinsky/For The Diamondback)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

If you’re on Twitter, you’ll notice University of Maryland President Darryll Pines is a frequent tweeter. Like most university presidents, he tweets out news about the institution from his personal account. However, he often adds a personal touch to his tweets — from posting pictures of him jogging around the campus, to highlighting his own media appearances, to commending people in the Maryland community. There were no exceptions this week, as Pines posted a screenshot of a USA Today article spotlighting his excursion to Route 1 over Labor Day weekend with a bag full of face masks to pass out to students experiencing the night life.

While some may find this endearing — “President Pines is trying to protect the students!” — I have nearly the opposite reaction. Frankly, this story, the accompanying picture and its context infuriate me. And, more importantly, they demonstrate that this university simply does not care about student safety. 

Regardless of his intent, Pines’ weekend trip to Route 1 shows us one thing: He knows what’s going on around the campus. He knows the bars are overflowing with irresponsible students. If the USA Today article didn’t convince you, head over to Route 1 on a Friday or Saturday — you can’t miss the lines stretching out of the bars. He knows these people aren’t social distancing. In the picture he reposted, he isn’t even keeping his distance, seemingly standing a few feet away from a gaggle of students. He knows cases are already spiking dangerously in the community. In his recent email regarding beginning in-person undergraduate classes, he acknowledges the campus has seen 135 COVID-19 cases and an additional 143 self-reported positive cases.

In theory, Pines should know a few more things. He should know these students can’t drink without pulling down their masks, meaning a single positive case can spread throughout a bar pretty quickly. He should know these students are going back to dorms and apartments, infecting their roommates and friends — not to mention the staff expected to feed and clean up after the partygoers. He should know if he reverts to in-person classes, these infected students will be attending lectures, possibly passing the virus on to classmates and faculty. 

With all this knowledge, Pines should have an easy decision. At the very least, don’t allow in-person classes. More responsibly, shut down the campus except to those with an absolute need to stay. 

But our president has done none of this. He doubled down, continuing his plan to start in-person classes despite staff anxiety and a positive case spike. He bragged about his Route 1 visit. And he’s ignoring — or at least claiming not to see — the lack of social distancing and self-isolating occurring among students.

Through this, Pines has shown his true colors. No matter how many uplifting and playfully ignorant emails he may send, he doesn’t truly care about the safety of the students. If he did, he wouldn’t keep the campus open — especially after seeing what’s happened at Alabama, Illinois, Temple, Ohio State and dozens of other schools across the country.

As students, staff, faculty and members of the university community, it’s imperative we don’t allow this recklessness to go unpunished. If (or more likely, when) there is a massive outbreak on the campus — possibly leading to deaths — we can’t allow university officials to claim ignorance to the issues and weaknesses around campus, as they have frequently done in the past. They know the dangers. They know they’re putting us at risk. And we will never forget the consequences of their inaction.

Jake Foley-Keene is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at jakefoleykeene@gmail.com. 

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