Two days before Tech closed in March, I ran into a well-meaning administrator who speculated that we would never close, nor ever see a Covid case on campus.
Several databases have documented the entirety of U.S. higher education, entering the Fall 2020 semester, such as “mostly in-person” or “all online” & a few hybrid options in-between. To be clear, my institution is in the “mostly in-person” category on purpose. This decision was made in late April, as the spring-term wound down, & the administration has stayed its course, surging virus numbers be damned. It seems the upper administration is making its most important decisions without regard for the virus; now we will see in the coming days, how much regard this mysteriously pernicious virus has for our motives, much less our lives.
After much pressure from faculty & community pressure, Tech has opened its “Covid dashboard” on the university webpage. From first glance, we have noticed several inadequacies with the dashboard. To be clear, it is a glance of current active cases, not a researcher’s-friendly archive of covid survivors in our campus community. Similar dashboards by other institutions are much more inclusive & exhaustive. Rather than providing numbers that can easily be seen & digested, the display is only a graph, so get out your good glasses & take the extra time to study “what-the-what-it-is-actually saying.” Finally, the dashboard by its own admission only covers self-disclosed campus cases, by students to Health Services & faculty or staff to Human Resources. So these dashboard numbers, either by careless construction or careful exclusion, will be much lower than they actually are.
While some universities have suggested or required or advised frequent testing for everyone, I have seen no such encouragement provided for us. Nor are there any suggestions about the comings-and-goings from campus by students, staff, or faculty, such as going to and from their home communities or off-campus jobs, not mention their campus communities in group houses, apartment complexes, religious clubs, or Greek organizations. To say nothing of the parties, which we are at least now talking about, now promising discipline & penalties for students who willfully put community health at high risk. But as the conversation goes across the land, we are also asking what responsibility administration should bear in constructing the community context for such pandemic parties to take place.
The overarching message we are receiving from our administration on the cusp of the semester is this: give grace. Now this is a message humans all need all the time. But this particular cocktail of grace is not easy to swallow. Rather what we have is sunny shots of “toxic positivity” from people who are not putting safety first, no matter what they say to the contrary. Where was the grace for all the employees whose jobs were terminated over the summer? How much grace is there for the student that moved to campus just seven days ago, contracted Covid, got tested, and is now trapped in their campus residence for 14 days or more? What about some grace for the staff who have requested to work-remotely & have had their requests turned down by HR? How about some grace for them?
Our Cookeville community is a Covid hotspot without a mask mandate or any stay-home-orders. Everything is open. Bars. Restaurants. There are concerts in the parks & games in the stadiums. Some businesses require masks, grateful that the university is one of them. Yet even yesterday, a student posted a video with one of the “Tech Strong” masks that were distributed. They did the “blow test” with a flame. These branded masks are worthless, just like our university’s brand has been in freefall for years, thanks to its partisan president & his callous business sense wrapped in the phony gause of southern kindness. These handful of mask-requiring places here in this town are tiny band-aids for a gaping bleeding gash of executive arrogance & cowardice, as we watch our local death-toll climb .