Temple: Cancel in-person classes now

After reporting 103 active cases of COVID-19 among students, the university must end in-person instruction for the rest of the semester to keep students, faculty, staff and community members safe.

On Aug. 30, Temple University announced the suspension of in-person instruction until Sept. 11, The Temple News reported.

The university made this decision after reporting 103 active cases of COVID-19 among students, up from seven cases a week earlier.

Today, we call on Temple to cancel in-person classes for the remainder of the semester.

The Editorial Board is aware that making the decision to cancel in-person classes is difficult and will affect student life and university operations in multiple ways. We acknowledge the potential long-term repercussions of cancelling in-person classes for the semester, which may harm what the future of our campus looks like and can offer. We do not expect the university to act hastily and without clear planning to account for these various ramifications.

Nevertheless, the Editorial Board believes the university had ample time to reconsider their decision to reopen campus for the fall semester — a decision that, as these 103 cases show, was irresponsible and dangerous. Until we have a vaccine to make in-person classes possible, the Editorial Board does not believe campus is safe.

At the time Temple announced its plan for the fall semester in June, Philadelphia had reported more than 23,000 cases of COVID-19. Today, that number is nearly 34,000.

Even after local colleges like the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University and La Salle University transitioned to online instruction in the weeks before Temple’s first day of classes, and even after students protested Temple’s decision multiple times, the university has still not shut down in-person learning for the semester.

Temple will assess the prospect of returning to in-person classes during this two week suspension period, according to the university’s announcement. However, by delaying this final decision for possibly two weeks, the university is leaving students in a state of uncertainty about what their education will look like only 14 days from now.

The Editorial Board finds it concerning that a number of university deadlines are currently set before Sept. 11, the day we potentially return again to campus.

These include the final day students can add or drop a full-term 16 week class, which is on Sept. 8, according to the Office of the Registrar’s website. Students with in-person classes will have to make a final decision of whether to continue taking these classes before the university will potentially announce the final format of them. The Editorial Board believes this is an unfair situation to place students in, and we call on the university to push back the end of the add/drop period to reflect this.

In addition, the university’s deadline for students to pay tuition for the fall semester is Sept. 10, one day before in-person classes will potentially resume, according to the Office of the Bursar’s website. While we cannot speculate when the university will announce the fate of in-person classes, the Editorial Board is concerned about students being forced to make decisions for multiple critical deadlines without a clear statement from Temple on the future of their in-person classes.

All the while, students are at risk of getting infected.

In their decision to move online for two weeks, Temple pointed to small social gatherings as one source of infection. This decision came a day after the university sent an alert Saturday evening telling students to avoid all gatherings, coming on the heels of new city guidance for students to not socialize outside of their household. 

While there is indubitably merit to this reasoning, we contend these gatherings would not exist in this capacity had the university not reopened.

By placing students who have presumably been socially distant from peers for months in a setting that allows them to socialize with friends they may not have seen since the university closed in March, Temple is facilitating a context that all but encourages social gatherings. Additionally, Temple placing first-year students on campus who are eager to meet their new peers creates an encouraged situation for social gatherings.

While we do not condone unsafe behavior and unnecessary social gatherings, the Editorial Board does believe these are avoidable consequences of the university’s decision to reopen.

We do expect and encourage students to behave responsibly and recognize the impact of their decisions — this goes without saying. The Editorial Board does not place the fault entirely on students when the blame should be placed on the university’s overambitious decision to reopen.

Temple has the opportunity to reverse this decision by cancelling in-person classes, but they need to do so in the swiftest fashion possible.

The university stated its motivation for reopening campus was “many of our students, especially our first-year students, told us they wanted to have an on-campus component if it could be done safely,” wrote Ray Betzner, a spokesperson for the university, in an email to The Temple News on Aug. 17.

With the surge in cases in the last week, the university demonstrated this “on-campus component” cannot be “done safely,” and this is not because of a lack of planning or a shortage of protocol in place. No amount of adherence to Temple’s four public health pillars will change the fact the university invited thousands of students to return to campus amid a pandemic that’s reached nearly six million cases nationwide.

The Editorial Board would like to remind our readers of the significant and inadvertent ramifications of Temple’s decision to reopen: more than 100 students are infected. The Editorial Board wishes a healthy recovery for all those affected by the university’s choice to continue in-person instruction.

In addition, the Editorial Board insists on acknowledging the threat posed by Temple’s decision on the North Central Philadelphia community and the city at large. This is particularly alarming given Philadelphia residents in neighborhoods experiencing economic hardship are at a higher risk for testing positive for COVID-19, Philadelphia Neighborhoods reported

At 103 active cases of COVID-19, it’s clear Temple’s campus isn’t safe for in-person classes. 

Temple: make the decision to cancel in-person learning, and stand by it, now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jack Danz, news editor, and Colin Evans, digital managing editor, contributed reporting to the accompanying news story. They did not play a part in writing this editorial.

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