Opinion: It’s clear what’s pulling the strings

Kelby Hutchison | @thetallcwrepor1, Staff Columnist

Since the move to online instruction in the spring semester, The University of Alabama has shown lapses in its ability to make moral choices that keep its student body safe. This failure of leadership has led many students to believe that the University will return to online instruction in the weeks to come. If this is done the University must take steps to reimburse students and atone for the danger they have put students in.

Following spring break in March, the University forced the entire student body into online classes before even a single case was shown in Tuscaloosa. However, when there are now over 4,500 COVID-19 cases in Tuscaloosa County, the administration has decided that this is the perfect time to introduce 30,000 students to a battered and decrepit city. People have died, hospitals are overrun, businesses have closed and social life is nonexistent.

UA students have been socially starved since they left campus in March expecting to only be gone for a week or two. Five months later, they finally have a chance to return to Tuscaloosa, but the University expects them not to embrace their friends after months apart. They expect them not to cry, jump, dance and scream at the possibility of social interaction.

The UA System Board of Trustees does not seem to consider the impossibility of its expectations. They continue to blame students for the drastic increase in cases as if the environment on campus was perfectly designed to avoid the spread of the disease.

What did the University do to ensure a safe return? Administrators created a lackluster return plan that doubled as a desperate attempt to fool the public into thinking the University is an expert on COVID-19. The plan’s inherent lack of foresight and critical thought was enough to remind students and teachers alike of procrastinated homework submitted at the last minute.

The University wants us to do health checkups, yet does not provide us with the tools to answer all of the questions on the Healthcheck. The University of Georgia and Auburn University have both provided their students with thermometers, masks and hand sanitizer. These universities also distributed these materials before their students returned to campus.

The University did not widely announce its intention to provide masks to students until Aug. 17 and did not distribute these supplies until the first week of classes. However, we can rest assured the distributed masks that now litter the streets of campus will be useful if the squirrels become transmitters of this virus. 

Even the squirrels seem to be more likely to wear the masks than some Tuscaloosa and Northport residents. I have seen people on and around campus wearing their masks below their noses or completely off with no regard for others. As for the masks distributed by the University, these incredibly basic fashion masks were wrapped up in packaging warning of possible poison contamination. It’s comforting for the student body to know that the University spared no expense in its fight against COVID-19.

The University can try to make amends for the obvious wrongs it has dealt to the student body. First and foremost, they must rescind the agreement that students were forced to sign before paying their student bills acknowledging that students would not receive a refund if the University were to move completely online. Then they must issue partial tuition refunds to all students. 

Next, the University must refund the absurd parking pass prices that students were forced to pay to attend their hybrid classes just once or twice a week. They must then institute free parking for any in-person classes during the Spring 2021 semester.

The University should allow students the ability to either stay in their dorm for the entirety of the year or go home and receive a partial refund in accordance with the percentage of the amount of time left they had this semester. Those who choose to move out should then be given a $500 dollar credit for the expenses of moving their belongings to storage or back to their home.

After this the University must bring back the pass/fail option as Zoom lectures hinder the learning process of some students. Along with technical difficulties, some teachers’ inability to use the platform effectively and the possibility of becoming sick and missing class, there must be a plan to avoid academically punishing those who chose to attend classes this semester.

Finally, the Board of Trustees and President Stuart Bell should make a formal apology to the student body for the greed that drove them to put human lives at risk for the benefit of their bottom line. I call for the resignation of President Bell, who has long been indecisive in this pressing crisis and has been the face of the University’s lack of assumed culpability in the spread of COVID-19 in the Tuscaloosa community. Only then can he no longer blame the students for the University’s mistakes.