- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 25, 2020

It’s a simple rule colleges just can’t get students to follow: no partying during the pandemic. So administrators have been issuing suspensions to bring the lesson home.

At Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, zero students have tested positive. Still, the school’s president chided and suspended more than a dozen students who attended off-campus gatherings over the weekend.

“I would like to emphasize how strictly we’ll be enforcing our policies and the serious disciplinary consequences students will face if they don’t abide by them, including suspension and dismissal from the college,” President Dennis J. Murray said in a statement to the college community. “[I]f this trend continues, we’ll have no choice but to completely close the campus and require students to finish the semester online.”

Officials at Ohio State University similarly took students to task for “unsafe behaviors” after suspending 228 of them for refusing to wear masks while attending social gatherings.

“We cannot have a successful semester if we fail to follow these simple requirements,” an Ohio State spokesperson told The Washington Times. “The vast majority of our roughly 68,000 students have been doing everything right.”

For the roughly two-thirds of U.S. colleges offering in-person classes, it’s been a rocky start amid the coronavirus. Last week, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill switched to online-only instruction after COVID-19 cases spiked on campus. Michigan State University also pivoted to remote learning days before the semester, and the University of Notre Dame announced it would shift online for two weeks, hoping to dampen skyrocketing COVID-19 cases on campus.

“That’s what began the source of the spread at Notre Dame, is a couple of off-campus gatherings,” Paul Browne, the university’s vice president of public affairs and communication, told The Washington Times.

Mr. Browne confirmed that the Catholic university has “ongoing disciplinary procedures” for “certain students” involved in parties. “But that can quickly spread to other students where they reside,” he said.

College officials say cracking down on coronavirus policy violators has become more urgent than ongoing campaigns against binge drinking, as COVID-19 increasingly is linked to social gatherings, often indoors, and a lack of facial coverings.

WCCO News in Minneapolis reported that 50 students have been quarantined at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, just days after administrators berated students for attending an off-campus shindig in violation of social-distancing orders.

At Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, 14 students have been quarantined off-campus for two weeks after disobeying administrators’ restrictions against parties.

And Alabama’s two preeminent institutions — the University of Alabama and Auburn University — on Monday reported hundreds of new COVID-19 cases among students.

“Our challenge is not the students,” University of Alabama President Stuart Bell said. “Our challenge is the virus and there’s a difference, folks.”

The punitive measures employed by administrators have drawn criticism from some public health experts and student groups. Julia Marcus, an infectious disease expert at Harvard University, has criticized enforcement by the “fun police” as being counterproductive.

In an editorial provocatively headlined “Don’t make us write obituaries,” The Observer, a campus newspaper covering Notre Dame, and said the problem of COVID-19 spikes should be shared by students and the administrators who brought students back to campus.

“The University administration has largely blamed the COVID-19 outbreak on students attending off-campus parties,” the editorial states. “While this isn’t entirely misplaced, it has been used to deflect responsibility from the very administrations that insisted they were prepared for us to return to campus.”

A survey this summer by SimpsonScarborough, a higher edcation research and marketing agency, found that 67% of college students wanted to return to campus for online or in-person instruction, and 30% wanted to stay at home for remote learning during the pandemic.

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