This letter was previously published in the Press Enterprise.
Undeniable: the spike in Covid-19 cases on and off the BU campus is not due merely to untested returning students, but to BU’s failure of foresight, planning, and preparedness. Combine these with President Hanna’s penchant for blame-shifting, scapegoating, down-playing, misplaced priorities, and denial and you have the ingredients for exactly the Covid-19 outbreak the college has inflicted on its town and county: 249 known infections among some 8253 students, 9.4.20
Hanna claims testing for Covid-19 cannot be required on state university campuses. I find no evidence for this, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a tactic to avoid responsibility. PennState/Centre County have far fewer cases of the virus. Why? PennState conducts routinized daily random surveillance testing as voluntary—but as OPT OUT:
The University will perform daily testing of at least 1% of the student, faculty and staff population across Penn State’s campuses. … If selected, students and employees are required to complete the free testing and should plan to do so within 48-72 hours after being contacted.… Although this is a voluntary testing program, the University strongly encourages selected individuals to take advantage of this opportunity to be tested. This … is separate from the required student pre-arrival testing …The plan includes testing for 30,000 students, faculty and staff from locations with a high prevalence of the disease before arrival on campus, as well as daily testing throughout the semester…
If BU had routinized asymptomatic testing as an opt-out preventative, consulted the town, the county, and the town police in drafting “Back to Bloom,” and produced specific instructions for its community, Hanna might not have found himself “begging and pleading” students in a Video. Instead, he uses vague appeals to the CDC, the refrain we can’t require testing, and the claim that BU isn’t responsible for what students do in town as excuses for BU’s resistance to test. Could students opt out? Most wouldn’t. There’s only one reason we didn’t go PennState: expense. If that’s true, BU should have opted OUT of bringing students back to campus. The “let’s have our college experience cake so we can eat the money too” plan predicted only one outcome: 249 infections and rising.
During a recent faculty meeting, Hanna referenced a CDC recommendation that the asymptomatic needn’t be tested. This claim has been retracted as misleading and gutted by infectious disease experts. To exploit it after its retraction is simply a bad faith effort to shift blame, much like Hanna’s video effort to scapegoat “those” (professors? staff?) who don’t have the faith in BU students he says he does. To then claim he has little control over off-campus behavior is hypocrisy. This is another try at shifting responsibility onto others for what the president and the provost knew was coming, especially with respect to the Greeks BU should have shut down as health hazards before the semester began. How could recent fraternity-related student deaths not have made that hazard clear to Hanna? I don’t know what’s worse: pretending to be infectious disease experts making claims about student recovery—ignoring potential brain, heart, and kidney damage—or claiming one day’s worth of fewer known infections is a “downward trend.” Both are derelict given what we don’t know about Covid-19. So too BU’s effort to rear-guard corral the town and county into more restrictive party ordinances, thus shifting more of the preventative burden to town police. Fraternities will simply have smaller moving parties instead of an 80-kid Covid-Palooza making town officers more vulnerable—not less, to infection. That Hanna’s considering in-person classes beginning 10.7.20 shows little concern for education, but a good deal about how deep is his head in the sands of denial and deflection.
BU traded its educational mission for the branding optics of the “college experience.” This is a tragedy for an excellent university—but it’s a potential catastrophe for its students and the town its faculty and staff call home.
Wendy Lynne Lee
Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania