As the number of COVID-19 cases on the University of Dayton campus reached 155 Tuesday, officials announced measures aimed at increasing testing and disciplining students who violate the college’s coronavirus safety protocol.
The institution’s COVID-19 surveillance testing program, which calls for testing up to 1,000 students per week, is designed to identify individuals who may be carrying the virus, yet show no symptoms. The testing program is also aimed at assessing the spread of the virus within the campus community. It includes testing targeted at potential hot spots as well as random testing, the university said, noting that students will be notified directly if they are selected for testing.
“We are ramping up testing options for our students, and have shared information with them in recent days, so we do expect these increased opportunities for testing to help us assess the extent of the clusters and potential for wider spread,” the university said in a statement. “We are evaluating the situation every day, and will inform our campus community of any changes.”
The testing started Tuesday, the same day officials said they were in the process of sending multiple students home for violating UD’s COVID-19 safety protocols. The students held gatherings that included large groups and the like, officials said.
In excess of 100 students have been referred for disciplinary action, and have either been sanctioned or face sanctions, depending on the outcome of their cases, the university said. Those sanctions will vary and could include suspension, although sending students home for violating the safety protocol is not a suspension. Students who are sent home for violating the protocol will not be dis-enrolled, instead, they’ll be allowed to take classes online only.
The central theme of UD’s safety program is, “I protect you. You protect me,” the university said in a statement. All students were required to complete training on the university’s requirements and procedures, which were designed with input from local health officials and a university panel of local medical experts. The university said students signed an agreement promising to follow those protocols.
The university reported 59 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, bringing the total to 155. The cumulative positive cases reported since June 23 is 176, according to a UD website that tracks the number of coronavirus cases.
Between Saturday and Sunday, the university reported a combined 65 COVID-19 cases on campus. That jump in the number of cases led President Eric Spina to announce that all courses will be taught online the first week of the semester, which started Monday.
Joel R. Pruce is an associate professor of human rights studies at UD, and he represents a group consisting of faculty and students concerned about face-to-face instruction without proper safety protocols. He said the university was right to switch to online classes the first week, however, that doesn’t go far enough. All classes should be virtual the first few weeks of the semester for a number of reasons, he said.
“One thing that students need right now, and I say this as someone who’s been holding classes and I’m in constant contact with my students, they’re looking for some certainty and some predictability,” Pruce said. “Doing things one week at a time is really unsettling. It’s also unsettling for teachers.”
In addition, shifting classes from in-person to online requires a different approach and skill set to provide engaging online education, he said.Doing it at the drop of a hat is going to lead to poor outcomes in the classroom, Pruce said.
Joseph Valenzano, the university’s communication department chair, disagrees. No instructors or students have complained so far about shifting to online-only instruction, he said.
“To suggest that (instructors) are not ready for online instruction really undermines and insults the work that they’ve done,” he said. “I’m really proud of the faculty, for the work that they put in. I think that we’ve proven our mettle as a group, and I think that to suggest that they haven’t been prepared for this is wrongheaded and really kind of undercuts the amount of effort, and sacrifice that people have put into to this semester.”
In a statement, the university said faculty over the summer designed courses “in ways that are flexible and resilient to any necessary changes in modality or delivery, so they were prepared for any necessary change to remote learning.”
The institution also offered training materials in flexible teaching; created a listserv for instructors to share ideas and questions; and offered support from the Office of eLearning as well as the Learning Teaching Center and UD Information Technology.
“We know that the flexibility we have been preparing for throughout the summer is time consuming and difficult,” officials said in a statement. “We recognize that this work has placed significant additional demands on our faculty, just as preparations for fall term have placed additional demands on students and staff. We are evaluating the situation every day, including examining the effects of more restrictive protocols we put in place this week, and will inform our campus community of any changes.”