Coronavirus roundup: Surge in cases forces universities to change their fall plans

Two universities that were planning on in-person fall terms are now backing away from those plans due to the rise in coronavirus cases, and a third university is shifting its second summer session courses online.

Meanwhile, Florida State University clarified that employees can care for children while working from home after facing a backlash over a memo it sent June 26 suggesting employees working remotely would need to secure childcare by Aug. 7.

Here's an update on some of the latest news developments regarding the impact of COVID-19 on higher education:

  • The University of Southern California announced last week that undergraduate students will take all or most of their courses online, reversing course from earlier plans to invite undergraduates back to campus for an in-person fall semester. In announcing the decision, USC administrators cited “an alarming spike in coronavirus cases [in Los Angeles], making it clear we need to dramatically reduce our on-campus density and all indoor activities for the fall semester.”

USC senior administrators said in a message last updated July 2 that their plans for returning to full campus operations had not yet been approved by Los Angeles County officials. They also cited new restrictions on indoor business activities imposed by California governor Gavin Newsom following a rise in COVID-related hospitalizations.

“Given the continuing safety restrictions and limited densities permissible on campus, our undergraduate students primarily or exclusively will be taking their courses online in the fall term, and on-campus housing and activities will be limited,” they wrote.

  • Across the country, in Virginia, Hampton University also cited the rise in coronavirus cases in announcing it was changing its plans to reopen the campus in favor of a remote-only fall. Hampton president William R. Harvey said the “COVID-19 situation has changed drastically,” forcing the university to change its plans.

“Not reopening the campus to students will minimize the risk of the spread of COVID-19 on campus and in the Hampton, Virginia community. It is our hope that this will also allow sufficient time for the threat of the virus to diminish,” Harvey wrote in a July 1 message.

Hampton said it would reduce tuition and fees by 15 percent for the fall semester, resulting in a savings of $2,187 for a full-time undergraduate student.

  • Texas State University said it would shift almost all of the classes for its second summer session online, with the only classes that will remain face-to-face being those “that require a face-to-face component for licensure or degree requirements.” Texas State is still planning a return to face-to-face instruction and full campus services for the fall term, which is scheduled to start Aug. 24.
  • Florida State University has clarified that employees can continue to care for children while working remotely, backing away from a memo it previously sent on June 26 saying otherwise.

The previous memo, which said that employees would no longer be able to care for children while working remotely starting on Aug. 7, was widely criticized on social media and received widespread media attention, including an article in People magazine. 

In a July 2 message, Florida State said it realized the June 26 memo from human resources "caused confusion and anxiety for many employees. That is the opposite of what we want to communicate to our dedicated faculty and staff. With so many factors still in flux -- including increasing numbers of COVID cases and the possible delay of the re-opening of local schools -- we recognize the need for sensitivity, flexibility, and deference to the personal and public health imperatives of this moment."

"We want to be clear -- our policy does allow employees to work from home while caring for children," the university said. "We are requesting that employees coordinate with their supervisors on a schedule that allows them to meet their parental responsibilities in addition to work obligations."

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Campuses remove monuments and building names with legacies of racism

Black college students, faculty members and visitors have long been expected to simply “shrug their shoulders” when they pass by statues on campus honoring Confederate figures and proponents of white supremacy, or buildings or monuments named for them, said Erika Wilson, a professor of law and chair of public policy at the University of North Carolina School of Law.

She was relieved, as a Black faculty member, when Silent Sam, the statute of a Confederate soldier on the Chapel Hill campus, was removed nearly two years ago. But there are still physical and written reminders at Chapel Hill and many colleges across the country that send an opposite message of the “welcoming” and “inclusive” environment college leaders say they want to provide for people of color, said Wilson, who is also an expert in critical race theory.

“It’s tragic that people didn’t think critically about what it would be like to attend a university with a monument named after someone who was genocidal and created great harm against people that look like you,” she said.

But the highly publicized and unjust killings of Black people this year, and the widespread protests across the country over the May killing of George Floyd, has prompted new introspection among many college leaders, who are quickly taking steps to remove the names of such controversial figures from buildings and to move the monuments off campuses -- never mind that repeated calls by students and faculty members for these very actions were ignored for many years. There is a new urgency from college presidents and boards of trustees to examine how campus policies and structures can perpetuate racism and white supremacy, said Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“You have students coming in and demanding that the messages being espoused are reflected in the reality of campus life,” Pasquerella said. “Students are saying rightly … ‘This is my home, it’s not just a place of learning.’”

Over the last month, a flurry of colleges has worked to align their recent statements against racial injustice with action by removing reminders of white supremacy on campus. Western Carolina University renamed its auditorium, which was named for Clyde Hoey, a former North Carolina governor who opposed racial integration in the early 1900s. The change was “long overdue,” Chancellor Kelli Brown said in a statement. Queens University in Charlotte, N.C., renamed its administration building, which was previously named for the Reverend Robert Armistead Burwell, who had “direct ties to slavery.” University staff members had raised alarms about the Burwell name in late 2019, a press release from the university said. Indiana University recently formed a committee to review the name of Jordan Hall, which houses the biology department on its Bloomington campus. The building is named for David Starr Jordan, a former zoology professor and university president during the late 1800s, a statement from the university said. A student-led petition is circulating to remove Jordan’s name due to his support for eugenics.

Clemson University in South Carolina renamed its honors college, which was previously named for John C. Calhoun. President Jim Clements said the university’s Board of Trustees moved up a previously scheduled vote on the renaming because they felt it was the “right time” to make the change. Princeton University took Woodrow Wilson’s name off its School of Public and International Affairs and one of its residential colleges, citing the former American president’s “segregationist policies.” Princeton's Board of Trustees had previously decided in 2016 to keep Wilson's name on the buildings.

“The board reconsidered these conclusions this month as the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Rayshard Brooks drew renewed attention to the long and damaging history of racism in America,” President Christopher Eisgruber said in a message to students and staff members. “Princeton is part of an America that has too often disregarded, ignored, or excused racism, allowing the persistence of systems that discriminate against Black people.”

Last month, the Board of Trustees at Chapel Hill lifted a 16-year ban on renaming campus buildings and changing monuments. Fierce debate about the removal of Silent Sam had previously divided the campus and state residents until the monument was turned over to a Confederate memorial group in December.

Wilson said faculty members had been pushing for the moratorium to be lifted since it was implemented in 2015 and renewed that effort with a petition in February. The decision by the trustees is an example of how “this moment inspired” them to act in a way they did not when addressing the controversy over Silent Sam, she said.

Chapel Hill chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz and Richard Stevens, chair of the Board of Trustees, acknowledged in a statement that the campus has “struggled for decades” with its association with white supremacists, slave owners and racists. As the country is confronting this history, so too is the university, Guskiewicz and Stevens said.

“We are living in a world where change should be fueled by a desire to create and embrace a more inclusive world, not resisted by fear,” the statement said. “Today, we are sending a clear message to the Carolina Community that we will reconcile our past and create a future that reflects the inclusivity and equality that our nation and the world deserve and demand.”

The national unrest over racial injustice in government and social systems and the widespread demands from students and faculty members for colleges to act has caused administrators to bypass old debates that occurred when disputes arose over building names or monuments, Pasquerella said. Leaders had the “luxury” of considering the perspective of people who favored retaining symbols of American and institutional history on campus and debating the value of commemorating the country’s painful past, she said.

Henry Stoever, president and chief executive officer of the Association of Governing Boards, said boards of trustees and governors make decisions by prioritizing certain issues over others depending on the current “environmental situation.” He said he doesn’t believe boards necessarily blocked such changes from occurring in the past, but they may not have prioritized them as much as they do today.

“When a board develops an agenda for an upcoming meeting, you can’t talk about everything,” Stoever said. “You have to prioritize these topics. The environment is likely causing some boards to reprioritize topics.”

Wilson believes the critical race theory concept of “interest convergence” is at play in college leaders’ decision making. They are realizing that their reputations, and those of their institutions, can benefit by making changes that Black people have long requested -- or suffer if they do not. Refusing to remove the names of white supremacists in this moment of great social pressure to do so can influence the recruitment, enrollment and retention of Black students and athletes and affect institutions' bottom line, she said.

“It’s bad business to not recognize or have overt signs of white supremacy out in the open,” Wilson said. “There are students of color who have said, ‘We don’t want to go to a university that has this history,’ and are distancing themselves from it.”

Wilson said she hopes the college leaders' newfound recognition of the need for change isn’t fleeting, and that the activists demanding change do not get complacent.

“While we have the attention, it’s important to push on these issues,” she said. “If we’re really going to enter a new phase on college campuses where all students are welcome, it’s time to reconsider the physical space.”

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The State Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees in Mississippi voted on June 18 to relocate a monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers to a cemetery on the University of Mississippi campus.
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What happens next for DACA — and for college-aged students who want to apply for the first time?

Advocates for immigrant college students cheered the Supreme Court’s recent 5-to-4 decision blocking the Trump administration from immediately ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides protection against deportation and gives work authorization to about 650,000 immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children with their parents and without legal authorization.

DACA remains vulnerable, however. President Trump and officials in his administration have said they plan to end the program, and the Supreme Court ruling left the door open for them to do so should they follow certain steps.

Meanwhile, a group of students who were too young to apply for DACA before the program was closed to new applicants in 2017 are newly eligible. They now have to decide whether the benefits of applying are worth the risk of giving their personal information to the government and revealing their status as undocumented immigrants.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates there are about 66,000 young people who have aged into DACA eligibility -- applicants have to be at least 15 years old -- since 2017, when the Trump administration tried to end DACA but was stopped by federal courts that kept the program in place for existing DACA recipients. This cohort is now entering the traditional age for college.

Legal experts say the Supreme Court ruling vacating the Trump administration’s rescission of the program in 2017 means that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services must resume processing new DACA applications. Immigration advocates fear the agency will drag its heels.

A spokesperson at USCIS would not say if the agency is currently accepting or processing new DACA applications. The spokesperson said in an email that the agency is still reviewing the Supreme Court decision and would have no comment beyond that of Deputy Director for Policy Joseph Edlow, who blasted the Supreme Court’s decision in a June 19 statement.

Edlow’s statement asserted that the “court opinion has no basis in law and merely delays the President’s lawful ability to end the illegal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals amnesty program.”

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, oversaw the establishment of DACA in 2012 as secretary of homeland security secretary under former president Obama. She said colleges “have a lot left to do in order to protect our DACA students.”

“No. 1, we will need to confirm that new DACA applicants can now enroll in the program, because in my view the Supreme Court’s holding takes us back to 2012, when the program was created, and that means new applicants can now enroll,” Napolitano said during a webinar about the ruling hosted by the Presidents Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, a group of college presidents that advocates for welcoming policies for immigrants and international students.

Napolitano also said that applications for advance parole -- a form of advance permission for DACA beneficiaries to travel outside the U.S. and re-enter -- should once again be granted by USCIS.

"We’re going to need, I think, to confirm that, and I think we can anticipate that the administration may resist that interpretation of the Supreme Court’s holding," she said.

Bill Hing, a professor of law and migration studies and director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the University of San Francisco, said some attorneys have already sent in completed DACA applications for new applicants. “Everyone is assuming that USCIS is going to process those as soon as they get them. DACA has been reinstated in full.”

Other immigration law experts agreed. “You take a picture of what it was like the day it was shut down: that has to be reinstated in its entirety,” said Michael A. Olivas, a professor emeritus at the University of Houston and an expert on immigration and higher education law.

Nevertheless, Olivas fears the administration will find ways to slow or sabotage full reinstatement of the program. If the Supreme Court decision went the other way, Olivas asked, “Do you think it would have taken more than a nanosecond to shut it all down?”

Adding to the uncertainty, USCIS plans to furlough more than two-thirds of its staff in August if it does not receive additional funding from Congress.

Ur Jaddou, the director of the watchdog group DHS Watch and former general counsel at USCIS, said during a recent press conference organized by the pro-immigration advocacy group America's Voice that the furloughs could result in the agency halting the processing of all DACA applications, renewals as well as new applications.

What happens with DACA will have implications for higher education.

“I think it’s going to be really important to see what happens with new applications,” said Roberto Gonzales, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and director of Harvard’s Immigration Initiative.

He said colleges have become so used to serving DACA students that they have largely stopped talking about undocumented students who do not qualify for DACA. At the same time, he said, "we’ve seen a growing distance between DACA beneficiaries and undocumented students" in terms of their access to opportunities and benefits. He noted that his state, Massachusetts, has not extended in-state tuition rates to undocumented students, but DACA beneficiaries are eligible for the lower in-state rates.

States have a wide range of policies about access to in-state tuition and state financial aid for undocumented and “DACA-mented” students. A new policy brief from the Presidents Alliance says that ending DACA would end access to in-state tuition rates for current DACA recipients in eight states: Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Ohio. Furthermore, current DACA recipients in two states -- Alabama and South Carolina -- would be barred from enrolling in their states’ public colleges.

“In addition to barriers to enrollment and more expensive tuition rates, the end of DACA would undermine the financial ability of many students throughout the U.S.,” the brief states. “It would hurt DACA recipients’ ability to pay for tuition and the costs associated with a higher education, including housing, food, and books. In a 2019 survey, 93 percent of DACA recipients indicated that they ‘pursued educational opportunities that [they] previously could not,’ with a potential end to DACA placing these educational pursuits at risk.”

Leidy Leon, an 18-year-old pro-immigration activist with the United We Dream coalition, was too young to apply for DACA before Trump ended it in 2017. She said the inability to apply for DACA left her feeling unsure of her future and unmotivated to continue in school, but encouragement and support from people close to her helped get her through high school.

"Now that the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration, the possibility of me being able to apply for DACA for the first time feels much more real," Leon said during the America's Voice press conference. "It would mean the absolute world to my family and I because we wouldn’t be filled with such uncertainty and fear."

Leon said she will be attending the University of California, Merced, this fall.

"Getting DACA would minimize my anxiety and make it easier to plan for my future during and after college," she said.

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Protesters in New York City oppose Trump's attempt to end DACA in September 2017.
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