ASU president Michael Crow joined 13 other education leaders on a phone call with Vice President Mike Pence May 13 supporting protections from lawsuits related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
A University official confirmed to The State Press that Crow was in agreement with the others in regard to legal protection.
“President Crow does believe that there should be a safe harbor for schools that have acted in good faith to fulfill their educational mission while following the guidance of public health officials regarding appropriate health and safety precautions for their students, faculty and staff,” Katie Paquet, an ASU spokesperson, said in an email at the time.
I'll be clear: if ASU chooses to reopen in a manner that damages the public health of ASU's community and students, then Crow and the University should be liable for any and all consequences of that decision.
What could be more in line with Crow's value of public responsibility, a value which he has invoked against student demands in the past?
In a statement this year where Crow announced a meager concession in tuition after student pressure, he said "as we manage the circumstances surrounding COVID-19 we will not retreat from our responsibility to the public, in particular Arizona residents, to continue to advance and be of service in every way possible and provide students the high-quality education that keeps them on track for continued progress toward their academic and career goals."
Well, the reopening of ASU after a quarantine and social distancing regime should count as a "circumstance surrounding COVID-19."
And yet Crow, and by extension ASU, both seem to be making a substantial retreat from their "responsibility to the public" through Crow's explicit support for legal protection against potential lawsuits.
Some students, taking to social media, suspect that ASU has been placing profit over student safety throughout the pandemic.
Jacob Rose, a junior studying history, believes that the school's financial interests played a role in determining the timing of the announcement that fall classes would be held in-person.
"By saying that classes will be in person, you're probably going to get more students to give them (ASU) their deposits," Rose said.
Rose thinks that both staying on track with his education and his college experience are important, but that those concerns should come second to the health of the ASU community.
"I really want to back to school in the fall," he said. "I miss my classes, I miss my roommates and friends, but if it's not safe to go back, it's not worth it at all."
Rose's concerns reopening stem from projections of a potentially deadlier second wave of coronavirus cases, which would occur during the fall semester if the predictions obtain.
"If there's no guarantee that we're not going to get sick, or that there's not going to be a second wave, then it's just not worth going back," Rose said.
Lives are at stake in this pandemic. At the time of publication, over 1,000 people have died in Arizona with over 20,000 cases, despite ASU being closed for the end of the fall semester and a statewide lockdown.
If ASU opens, and a second wave does come, then how couldn't it be much, much worse for the community?
I'm not sure that it takes an epidemiologist to deduce that, if tens of thousands of on-campus students, commuters, workers and professors all congregate in the biggest university in the country during a deadly global pandemic, then some of them will get sick. Of those who get infected, some would become seriously ill and die.
ASU can't have it both ways. If the school wants to take a risk and reopen, then by all means the school can go ahead. But, if an at-risk community member becomes sick and dies as a result of an ill-fated reopening, then Crow and ASU's liability should be able to be seriously argued in court.
At a time when universities around the country are bleeding money, I understand Crow's desire for students to empty their pockets by any means necessary. And, with enrollments at a record level, he seems to have succeeded where others have failed in that regard.
But, ASU's insatiable drive for growth for its own sake could prove disastrous in light of the pandemic. If the University's bottom line is placed over the wellbeing of its people, then those people should have a fair say if they get hurt.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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