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TCU Faculty Call For A Return To Online Instruction Following A Surge In Student Cases

During move-in week at TCU, signs placed around campus urged students to keep themselves and others safe from the spread of COVID-19.
Miranda Suarez
During move-in week at TCU, signs placed around campus urged students to keep themselves and others safe from the spread of COVID-19.

A group of faculty at Texas Christian University wants the school to take stricter measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 among students and staff — including a possible return to online-only classes.

The number of cases at TCU spiked shortly after students returned in August, according to the school’s self-reported COVID-19 data. At the beginning of September, there were more than 400 active cases.

Those numbers are down to 150 active cases as of Thursday, but COVID is still affecting the school. An outbreak among football players and support staff has postponed the Horned Frogs’ season opener, originally set for Friday.

Last week, the TCU chapter of the American Association of University Professors asked the school to consider a move back to all-online classes until the spread cools down.

Even though case numbers have dropped, journalism professor and AAUP chapter president Chip Stewart said pausing in-person classes is still a good idea.

“Getting 15 to 20 new cases a day, getting 150 new cases in a week, getting more than 750 cases since the start of the semester — these are not good numbers for a community,” he said.

TCU officials attributed a lot of the spread to large gatherings and parties. In a message to students on August 27, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Kathy Cavins-Tull said the school “literally cannot keep up with the pace of the spread we are experiencing this week.”

“Y’all came to campus because you wanted to learn with others. The only way that we can do that is to commit, as individuals, every day and every night (even on the weekends) to slow the spread in our community,” Cavins-Tull wrote.

But the AAUP is looking for more than just requests that students keep their distance from one another. The letter asked for stricter and better-enforced policies to prevent the spread of the virus.

It also called for more COVID-19 testing. The university health center only tests students who have symptoms or who were recently exposed to the virus, but Stewart said widespread, mandatory testing would give the school a better picture of who’s sick and who’s not to help contain the virus.

In an email responding to Stewart on September 3, TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini defended the university’s testing policy, saying that TCU’s approach is based on CDC guidelines for colleges.

“I also believe – as many medical professionals do – that mass testing actually wastes precious supplies that should be used for those who actually exhibit symptoms,” Boschini wrote.

Boschini said professors have the choice to teach online if they want — and punishing students won’t help.

“The only way that 100% compliance will be gained is through peer pressure,” he wrote. “Punishment has never worked to change behavior of people in the primary age group of most of our community. From experience, we also know that punitive measures only drive folks this age underground.”

Overall, Boschini disagreed with the letter’s statement that TCU has become a danger to public health. He pointed out that no TCU students have been hospitalized, so they’re not taking up resources others in the community could use.

Regardless of hospital capacity, Stewart said he’s concerned about the spread at TCU trickling off campus.

"If you've got a business here, a restaurant, a convenience store, a grocery store, the students go to those. The faculty and employees go to those,” he said. “The spread on campus is not just going to be a TCU problem."

Copyright 2020 KERA

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Fort Worth reporter.