Crow talks COVID-19 on TV, little communication with students

ASU's president has discussed potential possibilities for what in-person classes will look like with news outlets, but has shared little information with students

Students have received little information about what the fall semester will look like despite President Michael Crow's repeated appearances on television to discuss impacts of the coronavirus over the past few months. 

Crow has made numerous television and radio appearances, discussing the University's response to the new coronavirus with local media such as KJZZ, the Arizona Capitol Times and national outlets like MSNBC. He's brought up housing, safety measures and other ways the University is attempting to make sure students return in the fall. 

Eram Ahmed, a senior studying biochemistry, expressed concern over the lack of direct communication and the impact it has on students.

"I have mostly just relied on President Crow's emails and announcements," Ahmed said in a message to The State Press. Ahmed said he has maxed out on loans and will pay out-of-pocket in the fall, all things that have made the decision to return in the fall even harder.

The statement page on Crow's website with the school shows announcements about the extension of online classes, setting tuition and messages of confidence and resilience for the future. 

"There's been a lot of uncertainty that has plagued me during this situation. Mostly it comes down to financial stress," Ahmed wrote. 

The University officially delayed distribution of money from the CARES Act, a federal funding package meant to relieve people due to circumstances caused by COVID-19.

Discussions between Crow, reporters and other higher education leaders have been conversational, with hints at what the University might be considering in order to reopen safely. The broadcasted ideas have not been directly shared with students and Crow's media team has only given specifics to The State Press upon repeated attempts to contact them.

"Most of the transparency issues I have is mostly down to the fact that the University has only given a small refund to those living on campus," Ahmed said, explaining how difficult it is to trust the institution he feels has not helped him. 

UA President Robert Robbins has begun delivering weekly press conferences, making public several possible specifics about fall semester. These suggestions include masks provided and required for all students, allowing immunocompromised and older professors to opt not to return to campus and more.

The following are talking points and quotes from outlets who have discussed the new coronavirus, opening campus and the future of higher education with Crow:

KJZZ, April 3

This interview happened just after Attorney General Mark Brnovich tweeted he was not pleased with University communication to students about COVID-19, tuition and future fees. 

READ MORE: Attorney General blasts ABOR over COVID-19 response

Crow said Brnovich's claims were unfounded because the Attorney General never reached out to the University for clarification or to ask questions about their response and internal decision making.

He said the University is in "total alignment" with guidelines from the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and "have been managing ... very well."

Crow suggested university campuses are inherently difficult to keep healthy, saying ASU is "working on ways of maximum sanitation," without further explanation. 

MSNBC, May 1

After Crow announced the University was planning to reopen in the fall, he told MSNBC ASU was "planning to be adaptive, we're planning to adjust." 

This time, he had less specifics but said administrators were working through the expansion of testing, isolation and tracing.

The interview was the same day as National Decision Day, a day high school seniors celebrate their plans for the future. Crow said students considering ASU should be ready for change.

Freakonomics Radio, May 13

Less about COVID-19 and more on the University's potential economic loss, Crow's talk with Freakonomics Radio focused on three learning modalities at the University: on-campus, hybrid and fully online.

Crow said it is likely the University will use all three modalities so students who wish to continue their education from home can. Students expressed frustration when they were still being charged for on-campus experiences while they were learning from home.

READ MORE: UA parents seeking housing, fee refunds file lawsuit against ABOR

"Our financial numbers are guesses right now," Crow said, suggesting there could be possible salary reductions, a possibility the University later said was not final. 

The University also told The State Press a few days after the interview they had no estimate about how much the school could lose financially. 

KTAR, May 15

During this interview with KTAR, Crow said the University was proceeding with opening campus with a "flashing yellow light," but with little details. 

He said the cautionary response would mean health evaluations, testing and check-ups for anyone on campus.

Crow told KTAR he had spoken with Vice President Mike Pence and other university leaders about best practices, "turning all aspects of the University into an intelligent, interactive — both health and educationally — sophisticated, technological-assisted place," Crow said. 

READ MORE: Crow supports legal protections from COVID-19 lawsuits 

Arizona PBS, May 15

Joining NAU President Rita Cheng, Crow said during an Arizona Horizon Town Hall, even though the University was planning to welcome students, they were prepared to shift it all online.

Crow also confirmed during the town hall that if an online semester takes place in the future, a professor would still be meeting with them live through Zoom or other software, therefore receiving the same education and having no impact on tuition.

Crow began adopting fluidity themes during this town hall, taking the same tone as flexibility but relating any change to the flow of water.

Since several television appearances, The State Press has followed up with University media relations for clarification on policies that could be implemented. 

"Classrooms may need to be outfitted with new technology in order to accommodate students who may attend via ASU Sync," a University spokesperson said. 

Morning Scoop, May 20

In a discussion with the Arizona Capitol Times, Crow repeatedly mentioned students from Arizona pay significantly less than non-resident students, which helps the University stay open. 

Crow suggested when students return to campus, dorm rooms may have only one person per room. 

Crow was critical of Arizona for not taking higher education seriously, stating the impact from revenue they generate, research completed and the informed citizens they create.

Association of American Colleges and Universities, May 27

Alongside presidents from the University of Washington and Purdue University, Crow said the transition to online classes in the spring allowed ASU to reach all kinds of communities to provide schooling. 

When Purdue President Mitch Daniels suggested giving masks to students was not enough, Crow said students will need to sign a code of conduct when they return to campus, promising they will follow health procedures to keep each other, faculty and staff safe. 

Crow took the opportunity to ask state governments to help create education-related leagues to assist smaller public universities so they can stay afloat and continue their institutional missions.

Moderators wanted to end the somber discussion of changing and adapting the American college experience on a positive note. Crow thanked students and staff for their adaptability, following with another water-related message.  

"Think like a surfer. Ride the waves, be flexible. Know you'll get knocked off your board and will have to find it and get back on," Crow said during the forum.

Wyatt Myskow contributed to the reporting of this article.


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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