Colleges Closing Quickly as COVID-19 Cases Rise
As the Thanksgiving holiday looms, more colleges and universities in the United States continue to abruptly shut down their campuses for the remainder of the fall semester because of increased COVID-19 cases across the country.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 shutdown last spring, colleges and universities scrambled to respond to the pandemic and keep students safe. A George Mason University (GMU) study found that three-quarters of 575 colleges with more than 5,000 students had moved courses online, discouraged campus housing, canceled travel, closed campuses, and worked remotely.
That study, published October 16, analyzed actions colleges had made between February 25 and March 31.
"Spring break was this wonderful opportunity that just happened to be occurring at the right time that gave universities the bandwidth to be able to transition relatively smoothly for the spring," said Michael von Fricken, an assistant professor at GMU who worked on the study published in Plos One.
"We've reached this point where universities are only able to be shut down for so long," said von Fricken. "It's becoming more and more about balancing finances and student safety."
Universities have had to adjust again for the fall semester and rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.
In the past few weeks, many universities have quickly suspended in-person classes because of the surge. Brown University in Rhode Island, Northern Michigan University, the University of Maryland, and Syracuse University in New York are among 41 schools that most recently have suspended in-person instruction.
"In recent weeks, we have seen an increase in positive tests among students, faculty and staff," wrote Brown University President Christina H. Paxson in a letter to students on November 17.
"Although infection rates at Brown are still quite low, and we have ample space for quarantine and isolation, these increases are nevertheless concerning," Paxson wrote.
Since the pandemic began, there have been more than 321,000 COVID-19 cases on college campuses and at least 80 deaths, according to New York Times data from more than 1,900 U.S. colleges and universities.
"What's been happening in this fall, and what's going to happen in the spring, is universities are getting a feel for, 'Are they able to have a safe return to campus?'" asked von Fricken. "They're going to look at the schools that have been successful and try and emulate those programs."
The University of Pennsylvania, the University of Arizona, the University of California in Los Angeles and Berkeley, Syracuse University and the University of Michigan are among schools ending all in-person classes for the semester after Thanksgiving.
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US College Football Traditions Can be Lost on International Students
American-style football is a big part of college life on many campuses – with chants, songs, rivalries and homecoming celebrations.
But the celebration can be lost on international students, who aren’t typically familiar with the sport. The World reports Colorado State University offers a noncredit course to help students understand American football. (November 2023)
Donor Threatens to Withdraw $100 Million From University After Congressional Hearing
A University of Pennsylvania donor has threatened to withdraw a $100 million donation from The Wharton School, the university's business school, following the appearance of the university's president before Congress.
University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill appeared before Congress Tuesday along with leaders of two other Ivy League schools - Harvard President Claudine Gay and Sally Kornbluth of MIT.
During a hearing, none of the presidents answered "yes" or "no" to the question: "Does calling for the genocide of Jews violate [your university's] code of conduct or rules regarding bullying and harassment?"
All three presidents told the panel that they did not condone antisemitism and were taking steps to prevent it on campus, but on the specific question they cited free speech rights and said any discipline would depend on the specific circumstances.
Hate speech and acts — both antisemitic and Islamophobic — have erupted on U.S. college campuses since the Hamas-Israel war began in October.
All the presidents have received criticism because of their refusal to give a definitive answer to the question.
Stone Ridge Asset Management CEO Ross Stevens says he will withdraw his donation, now worth $100 million, to the Wharton School's Stevens Center for Innovation in Finance if Magill is not removed from office.
Proposal Would Remove Student Aid for Those Who Support Some Palestinian Groups
A Florida lawmaker has proposed eliminating scholarships, tuition breaks and fee waivers for students who are suspected of “promoting terrorist organizations.”
According to WOKV television, the bill appears to be in line with Florida efforts to disband pro-Palestinian groups on college campuses. (November 2023)
US Lawmakers Grill University Presidents About On-Campus Antisemitism
The presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were questioned by House lawmakers on Tuesday over whether their administrations are doing enough to combat the wave of antisemitism that has swept their campuses as the Israel-Hamas war rages.
Republican Representative Virginia Foxx said the three presidents were called to testify because “we heard in particular that the most egregious situations have occurred on these campuses.”
Claudine Gay, president of Harvard University, faced particularly difficult lines of questioning from congressional Republicans, including one fraught exchange with Representative Elise Stefanik, who demanded that Gay resign.
Stefanik, a Harvard alumnus herself, grilled Gay over whether the university would rescind admission offers to students who support Hamas’ murderous beliefs.
Gay pushed back, saying she would not commit to punishing students simply for expressing their views, even if she finds them “personally abhorrent,” apparently reversing university policy.
In 2017, Harvard reneged on admission offers for 10 would-be students after it came out that they circulated racist memes in a group chat.
The theme of Gay’s testimony was her dual commitment to “combating hate while preserving free expression.”
Gay said her administration would only punish “hateful, reckless, offensive speech” when it crosses the line into physical violence or targeted harassment.
Foxx, the panel’s chair, railed against Gay and the other university leaders, claiming that “institutional antisemitism and hate are among the poisoned fruits of your institutions’ cultures."
Republican lawmakers repeatedly criticized progressivism and tied it to antisemitism in higher education.
All three university presidents outlined their strategies for ensuring student safety and open discourse on the Israel-Hamas war.
"As an American, as a Jew, and as a human being, I abhor antisemitism. And my administration is combating it actively,” Sally Kornbluth, president of MIT, said, adding that “problematic speech needs to be countered with other speech and education.”
Kornbluth said free speech that promotes harassment or incites violence is not protected by the university, but those who try to shut down campus protests are essentially advocating for unworkable “speech codes."
Harvard and UPenn have struggled. Both schools found themselves under investigation by the Department of Education over complaints of antisemitism on campus.
“This is difficult work, and I know I have not always gotten it right,” Gay said of her efforts to promote free speech and inclusion. She noted the difficulty of balancing the concerns of different groups, including Harvard’s Muslim community, which Gay noted faces the threat of rising Islamophobia.
“During these difficult days, I have felt the bonds of our community strained,” Gay told lawmakers.
UPenn President M. Elizabeth Magill came under fire for the Palestine Writes Festival, an event hosted at her university in September that was a flashpoint of antisemitism, according to a complaint submitted to the Department of Education.
Magill condemned antisemitic rhetoric at the festival but maintained that measures had been instituted to ensure student safety.
The presidents made clear to the Republican-run House Committee on Education and the Workforce that their schools have taken steps to prevent harassment and bullying, including public announcements.
The president of Columbia was invited but did not attend, citing a scheduling conflict, Foxx’s office said.
November polling by the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel found that, since Oct. 7, 46% of Jewish students felt safe at their colleges, a marked drop from 67% before the war. Students across the nation said they were wary of walking around their campuses wearing a Star of David necklace, kippah or other emblems of Judaism.
In late October, an upperclassman at Cornell was taken into federal custody after allegedly making online posts promising to kill any and every Jew he saw on campus.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations and other advocacy groups reported that hate crimes against Muslim students were also on the rise.
Last month, a white man allegedly shot three Palestinian American college students in Burlington, Vermont. And, at Stanford, an Arab student was struck in a hit-and-run as the driver shouted, “F— you people!” according to witnesses.
Pro-Palestinian protesters have been doxxed — their names and pictures paraded around their campuses on mobile billboard trucks — in what activists say are attempts to intimidate them into silence.