U.S. campuses angered by Covid restrictions
U.S. colleges and universities are starting the spring semester with growing rebellions against the ongoing lockdowns, as staff and students increasingly question the value of the strong restrictions in person.
The semester arrives with American higher education perhaps experiencing its greatest diversity in responses to the pandemic. A significant number of institutions, including Yale University and the University of Chicago, are delaying their semester start dates. Others, including Harvard, Stanford, and most of the University of California system, are moving online courses to begin with.
Yet much of the industry – including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan, Pennsylvania State University and institutions in the southern United States – is sticking to relatively normal reopening plans.
As institutions face criticism no matter what decision they make, the most significant change in U.S. higher education appears to be in the direction of requiring pre-Covid routines. Several colleges and universities are hearing protests against reinstated online formats, restrictions on student movement and extended isolation periods for those infected.
Prime examples include Yale, where the Ivy League institution has pushed its rules to the point of prohibiting its students from eating in off-campus restaurants, even if they are outside. More than 700 University of Michigan students signed a petition supporting regular classroom education, pushing back 900 other community members who pleaded for a delay in January.
In the early months of the pandemic, with the dimensions of the threat largely unknown, support for more cautious approaches was common across universities. The University of Washington closed its doors when Covid first spread in early March 2020 and more than 1,000 institutions followed suit in two weeks.
Covid responses in the United States took on a deeply partisan tone over the following months, with institutions in more conservative parts of the country battling the restrictions. That kind of sentiment is now on the rise, as the Omicron variant appears to be spreading widely but causing relatively few deaths in a country with nearly two-thirds of the population vaccinated.
Academic critics include Marty Makary, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, who argues that institutional leaders have been too slow to calibrate their responses to the recognized level of risk.
Targets of its criticism include Cornell University, for requiring its students to wear masks outdoors; Princeton University, for not letting its fully vaccinated students leave their county; Georgetown University, for keeping students in isolation for 10 days after testing positive; and Emerson College, for twice weekly testing and room stay expectations.
Universities are losing their reputation as “bastions of critical thinking, reason and logic,” writes Dr. Makary in a Sub stack assignment. A person aged 15 to 24 has a 0.001% chance of death from Covid, with virtually all cases occurring among the unvaccinated, he continues. The policies seen on many campuses this coming semester are “senseless, anti-scientific and often downright cruel.”
However, in part, the Covid-related restrictions on college campuses were designed to protect academics and other older staff, who appear to be more vulnerable to the virus even if they are vaccinated.
As Dr Makary blamed the ongoing restrictions on a lack of lucid analysis, the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, announced that it would move its annual meeting again to line, originally scheduled for next month in Philadelphia. .