On Thursday, July 21, Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Wayne E. Jones Jr. held a town hall with University of New Hampshire (UNH) students and parents on the Student Confirmed Consent Agreement (SICA), and UNH’s reopening plan, which received over 915 questions from the student body.
In addition to Jones, the town hall was hosted by Nicholas Fitzgerald, Student Body President, University Vice President for Finance and Administration Chris Clement, Director of PACS Dr. Shari Robinson, a representative of the Senior Vice Provost of Student Life and Chair of Student Life Committee reopening, University Police Chief Paul Dean and Marian McCord, Senior Vice Provost for Research. Fitzgerald moderated and presented the pre-picked questions for the Q&A portion of the town hall.
McCord outlined UNH’s coronavirus (COVID-19) testing and contact tracing plan and discussed certain expectations for students as they plan to arrive on campus. Students must show proof of a negative test before returning to campus.
“The university has contracted with two providers to provide testing either through a facility or by mail. We have written guarantees in our contracts for lab capacity to receive results within two to five days. Students can receive a diagnostic viral test from their doctors or a state facility that collects swabs from the nasal cavity and the oral cavity.”
The university will have multiple locations available to students in Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Students out of these areas will be able to receive a test by mail.
“We’re working with a national provider called Quest, where they can match students’ home addresses with the availability of local testing. They have a partnership with Walmart where they can share testing capacity with them. If that is not the optimal solution, they could receive their test by mail supervised by a medical professional online where they can send their test to a lab.”
Students concerned about their medical privacy had their fears quelled as McCord continued to outline testing procedures.
“This data is sent to Health and Wellness, it is HIPPA protected.”
McCord outlined the following steps after students begin to move in on August 10.
“When you return to campus, you will receive a bag of testing supplies, trained in proper sample collections and techniques, you will collect a sample by swabbing your nose, you’ll return your swab in a secure location on campus or close to campus.”
Students continued to express concerns over the prospect of a self-test, as they will not be independently verified immediately after collection. However, even if students test positive, they remain free from quarantining until a second round of testing.
“If you test positive in this regular screening, Health and Wellness will request you return for a subsequent test. Students who test positive again will quarantine in the dormitory or at home. Close contacts within 6 feet for over 10 minutes will be asked to quarantine as well.”
Should students test positive in a second round of testing with the pharyngeal swab from Health and Wellness, they will be required to quarantine, either in their apartment or in one of the two dormitories allocated for quarantine housing. UNH Police Chief Paul Dean outlined the quarantine process.
“We will provide you the opportunity to access your classes virtually, we’ll have telemedicine, tele-mental health, regular medical staff to check on students, 24-hour security, meals, and snack will be delivered to students. We will ask you to make a go-bag so you can quickly take it to your quarantine site if it happens.”
Students will have their basic necessities taken care of. However, the claim that students can access all of their classes remotely contradicts the University’s official stance, which outlines how approximately 60% of courses are face-to-face only.
Students will have ample access to personal protective equipment (PPE) upon arrival. The university has obtained a stockpile for the entire UNH populace.
“We have secured a stockpile of PPE, we have over 1 million disposable masks. Each member of the University of New Hampshire, students, faculty and staff, will be given a box of 40 masks, which can be worn for 5-7 days each. We are going to ask you to bring three cloth masks as well.”
Chief Dean did not comment on how the university plans to enforce and discipline those who refuse to comply with the mask mandate on campus, nor did he comment on the legal ramifications of the potential town-wide mask mandate proposed by Todd Selig.
Should students run out of their PPE, there will be an ample supply on campus. Dr. Shari Robinson outlined potential ramifications for students who may forget their masks when travelling across campus.
“There will be available disposable masks everywhere on campus. You will be respectfully reminded to wear a mask. If not, you will be given a mask. If by some reason you refuse, that will lead to an educational, teachable moment with the dean of your college.”
Students have expressed concerns over billing. According to Chris Clement, billing has been front loaded in order to maintain current financial aid for students, and as to not have to adjust each student’s award based on federal regulations.
“There will be a reduction in billing. We are really hoping we make it all the way to campus without having to shut down. We want to make sure we get this right that there will be a reduction during the fall semester. Be patient with us.”
Provost Jones reiterated that the university’s primary goal was to maximize financial aid for students and minimize adjustments due to COVID-19.
“The best thing we could do for students to maximize financial aid, minimize disruptions was to stick with the original plan and then do credits at the end of the semester.”
As for the SICA, students have worried about its legal ramifications in regards to individual liability should a student contract COVID-19. Provost Jones explicitly stated that the SICA was not equivalent to a legally binding liability waiver.
“We had no interest whatsoever in creating a liability waiver. In New Hampshire, you have to explicitly say it’s a waiver. We just want everyone to be informed.”
The panel expressed that campus life as students return will be extremely different as the community adjusts to the new normal. However, Dr. Robinson believes regular social programming can continue between community members, albeit with certain restrictions.
“Res. life will continue to engage in virtual programming. We will have a lot of outdoor recreational activities. We are standing tents and tables all across campus so you’ll be able to socialize in small groups.”
Students wanting to exercise and socialize within many of the university’s main buildings will still be able to as well, barring certain restrictions throughout each building.
“Campus Recreation, the MUB and Student Union will be open under certain modifications. Our dining halls will be open under certain restrictions. Food will be served, all food will be take-out regardless of a meal plan. Seating is 50% or less. Only one take-out container will be used. Special dining needs will be accommodated.”
Following the administration detailing how UNH plans to operate, Nicholas Fitzgerald was tasked with moderating a Q&A with the administration with questions presented from the audience, which can be found at the end of this article.
An additional point was made by Chief Dean for returning employees and students in the Durham area. The university will be hosting drive-up testing for students, faculty and staff in Durham.
From 8 am to 4 am on Tuesday July 29, Wednesday July 30 and Thursday July 31, UNH Durham will be hosting drive-up testing at Wildcat Stadium behind the new home stands only for faculty, staff and students arriving on campus the week of August 3. Registration is required prior to arrival for testing.
From 7 am to 7 pm the week of August 12, testing will be available for students moving in until the UNH lab is up and running on August 24. Students may also pick-up their self-test kits.
The webinar concluded with Provost Jones urging students to continue to check their emails. University administration will be emailing in increased frequency as the return to campus continues to approach.
Though the university answered many questions, the student body remained frustrated with the lack of transparency from University administration.
UNH People’s Parity Project (PPP), a student organization based at the UNH School of Law, hosted a student debrief immediately following the official UNH webinar.
The town hall was moderated by UNH Law students, who requested to remain anonymous.
The purpose of this town hall was to serve as a student debrief and discuss the next steps for students regarding the Student Informed Consent Agreement (SICA) and UNH’s COVID-19 policy.
One primary concern of student’s was the lack of enforcement mechanism in students who refuse to comply with policies. Many fear students who refuse to comply will not be reprimanded.
Students continued to vent their concerns over the lack of transparency from university administration, who they believed have pressured students into signing the SICA under a tight deadline.
Despite Provost Jones stating it is not a legal document, many UNH Law students fear it may still act as a waiver in a court of law.
In a statement to The New Hampshire, Joshua Marshall, a representative for UNH PPP and a rising second-year student at UNH Law expressed his concern for the SICA in its current form.
“In emails to students, statements to the media, and again in Thursday night’s town hall, the UNH administration continues to mislead students as to the meaning of the informed consent agreement. They keep saying: ‘it’s not a waiver, it’s an informed consent agreement’ and leaving it there. Sure, but an informed consent agreement that has students expressly assume the risk of exposure to COVID-19 on their campus could still have significant legal implications, like it feels like lying by omission to leave that out, and it could be at the expense of students’ lives. By simultaneously asking students to sign an express assumption of the risk and lobbying Congress for additional liability protections through its representative, ACE, the university seeks to absolve itself from responsibility if it negligently infects us with the coronavirus.”
The University System of New Hampshire (USNH) is represented by a lobbying firm, the American Council on Education (ACE), which has continued to push for blanket university immunity in Congress.
Marshall believes the university should remove the final paragraph on the SICA, such that students may agree to the university’s COVID 19 policies without absolving the university of its responsibility to protect students.
“Personally, I want the assumption of risk language removed. I want the students to have a legitimate open forum to air all of their questions. The PPP and Graduate Student Senate are continuing to compile student questions, which we should not have to do.”
Students have continued to push back against the reopening plan, with online petitions circulating calling for prorated tuition, the further extension of the SICA deadline, among other things.
Student concerns remain unaddressed even as UNH pushes to reopen. As the deadline approaches for the SICA, many students are considering taking a gap semester or taking their courses remotely as UNH pushes to reopen its campus without addressing their concerns over safety and transparency.
Q&A session – moderated by Student Body President Nicholas Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald: “Has UNH done modeling for an outbreak on campus and can that data be made public?”
McCord: “We haven’t done our own modeling but we have been following modeling from literature and different locations across the country.”
Fitzgerald: “How will students obtain those testing kits and how often will they be tested?”
McCord: “They can obtain them when they are moving into the dorms. We are building capacity on campus to hopefully test everyone twice a week. We are looking at how to adjust testing in terms of risk, taking into account an individual’s risk level based on where they live relative to campus.”
Fitzgerald: “Will other students be allowed into their friend’s dorms even if that friend is living in a different dorm?”
Dr. Robinson: “We are trying very hard to institute a no-visitor policy. We are not saying our students can’t hang out, but unfortunately, no outside visitors in the residence halls. UNH students may visit each other’s dormitories though.”
Jones: “The campus is not a police state but we are trying to limit the number of visitors to campus.”
Fitzgerald: “Can students get out of room and board of housing now due to COVID?”
Clement: “We have to put an end date on that which makes sense, but I need to double-check with my colleagues, but the short answer is yes. We are doing hospital-level cleaning. We are cleaning high touch areas and bathrooms twice a day. We are effectively doubling housekeeping staff.”
Dr. Robinson: “The first time you have to be reminded, no harm no foul. But if you are engaged in repeated failure to comply, we are going to take a much more serious stance that will result in removal from campus. You will still have access to your classes, but you will lose the privilege to participate in the campus life.”
Jones: “Not participating in our public health plan is equal to alcohol violations on campus.”
Dean: “I know that if we do this, we’ll be successful. If you’re sitting there, you know if you’ll follow the rules. It is okay to take your classes online and gradually come back.”
Dean: “We don’t have the confidence in the testing outside of the United States. We will have to find a way to test you when you get here” in regards to the international students.
Fitzgerald: “Will Hamel Rec and the Student Union be open for students or will it be limited?”
Dr. Robinson: “They will be open with limited capacity and specific modifications in place.”
Jones: “Wear your mask, wear it all the time if you have to. It is perfectly appropriate to ask someone to put their mask on and the only response should be ‘thank you.’”
Fitzgerald: “Who could a student go to if they feel their professor is not doing a good job once classes are online.”
Jones: “Faculty are working hard to prepare for you. If a student is having an issue, they could reach out to the department chair or the Dean’s office and have a conversation. I would hope that the first thing the student does is to have a conversion with the faculty member.”
Fitzgerald: “How will transportation work on campus?”
Clement: “We will have an increased number of busses on the campus connector lines. The ridership is so low on the weekends to Newmarket, it is just not financially or sustainably correct. We will have lines from Portsmouth to Dover on the weekends. There will be more to that in the coming future.”
Jones: “We will update the FAQ with questions if they are not up there already. We have received 836 questions that’ll be grouped and answered.”
Fitzgerald: “What is the student interest in returning to campus?”
Jones: “3-10% that will not return to campus. 10% may want to defer or are thinking about it. 80% want to return.”
Fitzgerald: “How will partying be held on or off-campus?”
Jones: “We are asking students to get together in a smart way, about 10-15 people. Why not get together with those that you live with?”
Dr. Robinson: “The students will decide whether or not we get to stay together this semester.”
Dean: “We have been working with the town twice a week so we can have synergy. Education, education, education when it comes to this with me and my team. We are going to talk about those things. If you’re trying your hardest in a group with a mask on and socially distancing, everything will be fine. Parties where everyone is close and has been drinking, that’s what will ruin it. If we have a surge that overwhelms our capacity, we will be forced to shut down from the state.”