Delay classes going back in-person

Michael Zhang, Columnist

On January 24, UT experienced a  20% spike in daily COVID-19 cases compared to previous weeks — a statistic I found alarming. However, what truly shocked me and many other students at the University was President Jay Hartzell’s announcement that despite the surge in cases, UT would resume in-person classes and campus operations starting January 31.

While this time last semester UT had around 74 active cases and chose to keep classes in-person, this semester is different. UT had 250 active cases just during the week of January 23, and is still choosing to hold classes in person. Students are experiencing a totally new level of risk, making a future COVID-19 surge not a question of if, but when. Just like during previous waves of COVID-19, UT students are feeling the brunt of administrative failure.   

Once again, UT has chosen to risk and endanger the well-being of their student body in favor of in-person campus events. UT needs to delay the return of in-person classes to protect the safety of their student body, or at least offer a virtual option for all students. 

Kyle Morgenstein, an aerospace engineering doctorate student, shared his distaste towards UT’s actions.

 “The issue is (that) we aren’t allowed to require masks (in Texas). As someone worried about my health issues, I’m not going to put myself in a position where I don’t know the vaccination status of the people around me,” Morgenstein said. “(Thanks to) the graciousness of my professor, I was able to stay for the next week or two (online), but I had zero institutional support.” 

Due to state policies, UT cannot mandate vaccinations or require masks. However, UT must find other ways to protect student health and well-being, such as temporarily holding off on in-person classes until COVID-19 cases have significantly decreased.

Kathleen Harrison, assistant director of communications for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, provided some insight into the reasoning behind UT’s choice of reinstating classes in person.

“In her message earlier this month, the provost asked faculty to continue flexible practices such as making lecture slides and notes available to students online and use of multiple outlets (e.g., class time, email, and Canvas, etc.) to disseminate class information. Providing this flexibility and other accommodations will help our students as COVID-19 impacts our campus community, families and classroom learning,” Harrison said via email.

While this is indeed helpful to students who miss class time, it seems that this only accommodates those who catch COVID-19 and are too sick to attend class in person. Where is the flexibility and accommodation to prevent contracting COVID-19? By going to in-person courses, students are constantly risking not only their own well-being, but also the well-being of their others.

These policies fail to address the root of the issue — mandatory in-person attendance. At the very least, UT should require classes to have a hybrid option or eliminate mandatory attendance policies in order to accomodate for students. However, by making students’ attendance at live lectures compulsory, professors and UT staff create an unsafe learning environment, especially for those at high risk for COVID-19.  

Students pay thousands of dollars each semester of tuition to the university, expecting to gain a level of knowledge and teaching that UT is renowned for. UT promises to create a learning environment that supports students to change the world, yet fails to guarantee the basic safety of those on the Forty Acres. 

Michael Zhang is an undeclared PACE freshman from Katy, Texas.