West Virginia University has shut down its campus and in-person classes in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, yet the university leadership seems to be ignoring their own rules.
West Virginia University first canceled in-person classes on Sept. 8 citing rising concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Despite President E. Gordon Gee’s acknowledgment that the school’s positivity rate was “considerably lower than the 5 to 7 percent they anticipated” and prepared for, he immediately urged students to shelter in place and complete a “daily wellness survey.”
“There is increasing evidence that crowded indoor gatherings, such as those that occurred over the weekend, can serve as super-spreader events,” said Dr. Jeffrey Coben, associate vice president of health affairs and dean of the School of Public Health.
Over Labor Day weekend, 29 students who attended parties were recorded on social media, and reported by university police, and on an anonymous software provided by the school. The students in question are “banned from campus and cannot take classes, including those offered online” and will not be refunded their tuition per the student code of conduct.
“The University continues to work aggressively to identify others attending these large off-campus gatherings and will respond swiftly to bring charges against those found violating the Student Code of Conduct. WVU is also working with local officials to see what other measures can be implemented for those not following the rules,” a statement from the university said.
“No matter where they are, if a student cannot abide by the health protocols put in place for their safety and the safety of the community during a global pandemic, we do not want them here,” Dean of Students Corey Farris added.
WVU also announced that it “will temporarily suspend and reduce the number of in-person recreational activities and further limit capacity at events planned on campus. Additionally, more activities will be offered virtually.”
The suspensions occurred after multiple letters were issued from the university administration telling students to wear a mask, social distance, avoid large gatherings, monitor their symptoms, and comply with Morgantown guidelines for COVID-19 health and safety. The letters threatened suspension and the shut down of campus if these actions were not taken.
Although the university has tested over 24, 278 students since the end of July, only 1.99 percent were found to be positive through Sept. 15.
While “graduate and professional courses will continue to be offered in person,” and staff and faculty will “report to work as usual,” undergraduates will not be welcomed back to campus until Sept. 25. Even then, the university claims that they will re-evaluate the decision return to campus on Sept. 23.
Despite ordering their students to shelter in place, the WVU administration allowed the WVU football team to play on Saturday in Morgantown against Eastern Kentucky, claiming they were not “seeing the same community spread occurring in our athletic programs.” The game, which had “limited attendance,” directly contradicted the administration’s orders for students not to leave their residencies “except when necessary.”
And even though WVU president authored many letters demanding students follow local COVID-19 guidelines to their fullest extent including wearing masks when going out and even issued suspensions for students in violation, Gee was pictured perusing the aisles of a local drug store without wearing a mask.
He issued an apology to the university admitting that he did not hold himself “to the highest of standards and set the very best example for our University.”
“As I have asked you to do the right things, so must you expect me to do the same,” Gee said. “I apologize for the error in judgment and commit that it will not happen again.”
A letter from parents of students at WVU circulated after the cancellation of classes, accusing the university of making a decision “without any scientific justification” and ruining the parents’ trust.
“The University invited the students back to campus with the promise of in-person classes and social gatherings, but has now reneged on its promise without any scientific justification, effectively destroying any trust in the administration,” the letter reads.
According to the authors of the letter, the university backtracked on its original promises to offer a semi-normal school and prioritized certain groups with its decision to shut down.
“WVU has gone from 1) promising in-person classes and extracurricular activities; to 2) a mix of in-person classes and on-line classes; to 3) a completely on-line and dismal educational experience where students are expected to hunker down indoors,” the letter stated.
“There are no clubs, intramural sports, and other activities that make the college experience more than just the robotic ‘delivery of instruction.’ Yet, President Gee has closed the door on any refunds,” the letter continued. “Notably, all this finger wagging and the threat of more investigations and punishment came after tuition was due on September 1st. WVU’s concern for public health, other than its current use as a pretext to shut down some fraternities, appears to be a distant third after revenue and football.”
Jordan Davidson is a staff writer at The Federalist. She graduated from Baylor University where she majored in political science and minored in journalism.