As a global pandemic ravages the livelihoods of thousands, U.S. citizens are simultaneously confronting one of the largest and most influential civil rights movements in the country’s history.
In the wake of both the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, universities face a test like no other.
Administrations are already implementing new necessities, such as COVID-19-revised student health policies, telecommunication and online learning into their systems, but they must also prioritize the well-being of students as well as accessibility and equal opportunities.
The MU administration is failing this test and their students, despite being given a cheat sheet from other universities that released statements and updated their communities weeks ago.
The Show-Me Renewal Plan sent to students in June outlines plans for campus to reopen this fall. These plans thinly veil what appear to be the university’s lack of preparation and false promises to prioritize the well-being of students.
The plan states that students looking to live in university housing must sign a risk-of-exposure acknowledgment. This waiver shows a clear lack of confidence in the university’s ability to keep students safe.
The reopening plan also reinforces the university’s position not to conduct widespread testing of asymptomatic students, citing issues with false positives. This is a sharp contrast to what many universities are doing across the country.
False positives can be problematic when diagnosing a disease such as cancer, in which a false positive could result in an unnecessary and harmful course of treatment.
This is not the case for COVID-19. A false positive would result in a student quarantining to protect others from infection. Quarantining would pose no physical harm to the student and may even decrease the chances of spreading the disease. Furthermore, we know widespread testing is the most effective way to contain the virus.
To say the university will not conduct widespread testing out of fear of false positives is much like President Donald Trump saying, “With smaller testing, we’d have fewer cases.”
The fact that MU, as a higher education institution, is following the lead of such a dismissive response that has proved to fail to contain the virus is incomprehensible.
President Mun Choi and MU administration are making matters in Missouri worse by their failure to truly lead.
A team of Georgetown University epidemiology researchers and Stanford Medical School doctors have found that Missouri is currently at risk of an outbreak. Much of this risk is due to increasing infection rates, insufficient testing and contact tracing.
MU will only continue to contribute to this risk by choosing to leave this labor-intensive job of tracing all student cases up to a severely understaffed Health Department.
As an institution categorized as a Research I university, the MU administration should consider the far more comprehensive responses to the pandemic at other universities. Better solutions are out there. President Choi and the MU administration don’t seem to want to acknowledge them.
In an email sent to students from President Choi, I was quite surprised to see that he highlighted how socioeconomic health disparities are being exposed by this pandemic. Ironically, someone so concerned with socioeconomic disparities in our community continues to enact policies that may actively harm communities of lower socioeconomic status.
The Show-Me Renewal Plan, which outlined plans for the campus to reopen this fall, states that all on-campus dining, including dining halls, restaurants and convenience stores, will no longer accept cash.
This is a slap in the face to lower-income students who have only limited access to bank accounts or none at all. This practice was banned in New York City in January for discriminating against lower-income households.
Additionally, the MU Student Health Center will no longer give medical excuses to students. This means that it is up to the discretion of individual professors to determine if a student needs to be excused for medical reasons.
It is clear that nonmedical professionals should not be responsible for determining what a student’s capabilities are as a result of medical conditions. The only way a student can get a medical excuse would be from a doctor outside the MU Student Health Center.
This would not only disproportionately affect students with disabilities, but it also presents an accessibility issue for those who lack transportation off-campus and — contradicting Choi’s concerns — those unable to afford health insurance to help cover the cost of a doctor’s visit.
This is not the first time this year MU has unnecessarily disadvantaged students from lower-income households.
With the shift of classes to an online format, the university employed the use of online proctoring software such as Proctorio and Examity in an effort to ensure academic integrity.
These platforms use biometrics to monitor and identify students during exams and record activity in the room and on the computer. Some have admitted to sharing identifying student information with third parties.
Using such invasive online proctoring software has been banned by universities such the University of California-Berkeley and Fordham University and suggested as a last resort at Oklahoma University and University of California-Davis.
These universities also cited accessibility issues as major concerns since these programs require consistent and stable internet connections. Not to mention, these programs drive the price of online courses up, as they can cost approximately $16 per student per exam (Proctorio is free).
I and several other students presented these accessibility issues to the chancellor’s office as well as Mizzou Online Learning, but neither has responded.
University administration has a history of refusing to pay attention to its students in difficult situations. This was true during the 2014 and 2015 protests, and it remains true after a student petition to remove the Jefferson statue on campus went unheeded.
University administration must start listening to and including student voices in making decisions that directly affect them, including COVID-19 safety measures, online classwork solutions that address socioeconomic equality and issues related to systemic racism past and present.
Yousuf El-Jayyousi is a biomedical engineering student at MU and a research assistant with the Zhang Research Group.