KU group seeks delay of in-person instruction, fraternities put parties on ice

By: - August 22, 2020 10:09 am
The FBI, private sector cybersecurity executives and University of Kansas researchers convened to search for ways to deepen collaboration to meet growing challenges of hackers, intellectual property thieves and rogue governments damaging IT infrastructure in the United States. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

The FBI, private sector cybersecurity executives and University of Kansas researchers convened to search for ways to deepen collaboration to meet growing challenges of hackers, intellectual property thieves and rogue governments damaging IT infrastructure in the United States. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas’ faculty, student and staff leaders oppose opening campus Monday for in-person classes due to threat of exposure from COVID-19 and propose beginning the fall semester with two weeks of online instruction.

Meanwhile, the KU president of the Interfraternity Council imposed a temporary moratorium Friday on fraternity parties and other social events due to concern about coronavirus. The latest statistics released Wednesday by KU indicate 87 students and two employees were found to be positive. A large percentage of infected students are associated with the fraternity and sorority system.

KU chancellor Doug Girod said a fruitful start of the 2020 academic year depended on willingness of people to follow public health guidance by wearing a mask, social distancing and washing hands. KU requires the wearing of masks on campus and compelled all students, faculty and staff to be tested for COVID-19. Those testing positive will be expected to isolate themselves.

“If we are to open successfully and avoid moving more fully online as other universities across the country have done in recent days, all of us — students, faculty and staff alike — will have to be the very best version of ourselves,” Girod said.

Individuals on the University of Kansas campus posed Saturday for a quick photograph with a Jayhawk statue adorned with an anti-coronavirus mask. KU plans to resume in-person instruction Monday at start of the fall semester. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Individuals on the University of Kansas campus posed Saturday for a quick photograph with a Jayhawk statue adorned with an anti-coronavirus mask. KU plans to resume in-person instruction Monday at start of the fall semester. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

He said KU would rely on 30 indicators to make decisions about campus operations, but no single trigger would prompt a shift from the “low density” approach to reopening the university. The framework sets specific interventions if the public health situation deteriorates, including heightened social distancing, residence hall occupancy reductions and more targeted testing.

“We can be confident that decisions related to campus operations will be data-driven and guided by the latest science,” the chancellor said.

As coronavirus began sweeping the nation, KU closed its campus in March to in-person instruction. It reduced the campus to essential personnel. The pandemic is expected to slash university revenue by an estimated $120 million during the fiscal year.

The strategy at KU and other colleges and universities in Kansas is to offer in-person, hybrid and online classes to accommodate divergent student needs.

In an unscientific 30-minute survey Saturday, 71% of students and other pedestrians outside the Kansas Union were abiding by the university’s mask requirement. The tally: 176 were wearing a mask, 72 were without a face covering.

University Senate president Sanjay Misra joined the student body vice president and the presidents of the Staff Senate and Faculty Senate by signing a letter sent Friday to the KU administration expressing appreciation for preparations for the fall semester and presenting an argument for the two-week delay of in-person classes.

“It is now evident that the course we charted with great hope and good intentions is misguided,” the letter says. “It is not possible to keep our community safe. The risks are too great.”

Joe Davidson, president of KU Interfaternity Council, said the fraternity event moratorium initiated Friday would remain in place until “further review.” It applies to Greek properties, senior houses and off-property venues. That means no formals, no date parties, no in-person recruitment. Violators are to be subject to IFC’s judicial board review, he said.

“Any and all social events do not promote and protect the best interest and health and safety of our members, respective chapters, the university and the greater Lawrence community,” Davidson said.

This masked Jayhawk statue sits outside the student union at the University of Kansas where Saturday an unscientific 30-minute survey of students and others walking outside indicated 71% were abiding by the campuswide mandate to wear a mask. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
This masked Jayhawk statue sits outside the student union at the University of Kansas where Saturday an unscientific 30-minute survey of students and others walking outside indicated 71% were abiding by the campuswide mandate to wear a mask. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Barbara Bichelmeyer, provost and executive vice chancellor at KU, sent a message Friday to students, staff and faculty that acknowledged emotions would range widely as the clock moved closer to resumption of in-person classes. People are anxious about the future and worried about the behavior of others amid the pandemic, she said.

“I’ve received emails expressing true fear about returning to campus, emails expressing raging anger about our decisions and actions,” she said. “I’ve also received emails expressing profound relief that needed programs and services will soon be available in person, and emails offering great appreciation for the comprehensive planning and preparation to reopen for fall semester.”

Bichelmeyer said the fall semester wouldn’t look like anything witnessed in KU’s past. There are to be fewer students on campus at any time. To narrow mass gatherings on campus, most courses are online or a combination of in-person and online instruction. There will be a significant number of in-person labs, studios, practice sessions and class discussions, she said.

The provost said classroom spaces were modified and white tents erected across campus to support physical distancing. Technology in classrooms has been modified to handle demands of all instructional formats.

Under KU’s plan, students are to remain on campus until Thanksgiving with finals conducted online to limit home-to-school travel before resumption of in-person classes in February.

“Our best efforts have provided a safer on-campus environment,” Bichelmeyer said. “Though it is entirely doable for us to get to Thanksgiving together, it will only happen if each and every one of us is willing to commit to the personal responsibility pledge we have put into place.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

MORE FROM AUTHOR