The University of Chicago’s decision to stall winter quarter and impose two weeks of remote “learning” defrauds students of the quality education we purchased with our tuition dollars.
In blatant disregard for the well-being of students, UChicago delayed the start of winter quarter until January 10 and mandated that the first two weeks of instruction be entirely virtual. This irrational, anti-science announcement came on December 23, just eleven days before we were due to resume in-person instruction.
We condemn UChicago’s return to “Zoom University.” And we demand a significant reduction in tuition for every week of in-person classes and campus amenities limited or denied.
If Our Schoolwork Were as Lousy as UChicago’s Policies, We’d All Fail
UChicago prides itself on being one of the leading research institutions in the world. It fails to live up to its namesake when it refuses to rationally substantiate its decrees, of which this most recent shutdown is the prime example. If we students submitted a paper as lacking in rigor as the university’s latest COVID policies, we’d get failing grades.
The university attempts to justify its renewed lockdown by strategically and deceptively diverting attention from the minimal severity of Omicron toward the number of cases.
In an attempt to substantiate its return to remote “learning,” UChicago cited “assessments from medical experts that infection rates from the Omicron variant will continue to rise substantially in the next few weeks with the projected infection peak coming in early to mid-January.” But while Omicron is indeed rushing through the country at a breakneck pace, that’s only part of the story. The other, more important, part of the story is that the recent COVID surge does not pose a threat to the survival of UChicago community members.
Without even controlling for comorbidities, the survival rate for Americans under 65 who have contracted COVID since February 2020 is 99.87%. Moreover, COVID risks have declined with the onset of the Omicron variant.
Case in point: Cornell University recently experienced a surge of over 900 Omicron cases, but didn’t record a single instance of severe illness.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s case hospitalization rate amid its Omicron wave declined to one-eleventh of the rate amid Delta, and its case fatality rate plunged from 8% to 0.2% in six weeks.
To date, no Omicron-caused death has been confirmed in the U.S. And UChicago has yet to provide convincing evidence that the severity of the Omicron variant even surpasses that of common cold symptoms for our age cohort, instead treating it like the bubonic plague.
To make matters worse, the university has yet to provide any proof that delaying winter quarter will even have a positive effect on lowering Omicron cases. Nor has it substantiated its claim that there is “increased stress on the medical system,” especially in light of Omicron’s comparatively low hospitalization rate.
We are overwhelmingly likely to survive this virus, students and professors alike. There is no scientific justification for another COVID lockdown—period. Sadly, this fact is lost on our university, which continues to ditch scientific rigor.
If the University’s ‘Experts’ Are So Credible, Name Them
UChicago repeatedly cites “experts” when attempting to justify its COVID decrees, but refuses to release the names of these individuals. This is inexcusable.
If the university trusts its decision makers, it should have no problem sharing their names with our community. Transparency is only inconvenient if there is something to hide.
Who are these anonymous experts crafting university policy? What are their names and credentials? What data are they relying upon? Who is calling the shots?
Our professors rightly demand that we students substantiate and cite our work, but UChicago fails to live up to its own, most basic of standards.
If We Don’t Condemn UChicago’s Lunacy, This Will Become the Norm
UChicago presently suggests January 24 for the resumption of in-person classes, but deceptively refuses to fully commit to this date. Instead, UChicago states that we will only be permitted to start living our lives “if conditions allow,” and that there may be need for “ongoing intervention and adaptations,” whatever that means.
The first so-called requirement for a “safe” return to in-person instruction was receiving the COVID vaccine. The second so-called requirement for a “safe” return was receiving a COVID booster. The latest so-called requirement is now a delayed quarter and two weeks of Zoom classes from home. When will this unrelenting series of shifting goalposts end? It won’t, unless we start speaking up.
Zoom University is a terrible “substitute” for in-person education. It is also isolating. In his petition demanding a return to in-person instruction, fellow student Jonah Kaye rightly points out that “there are steep mental health risks associated with another transition to remote learning.” He cites evidence pointing to the dangers of educational and societal shutdowns: remote learning caused a host of mental health issues for students under 25, and there was a 28.5% jump in overdose deaths between April ‘20 and the following year (i.e., the period with the most excruciating lockdowns).
The chance of a UChicago student or professor dying from Omicron is practically zero—but, by going remote again, UChicago will be directly responsible for significant, adverse consequences to students’ mental and physical well-being. If our university truly valued “the science,” it would prioritize our health by allowing us to fully engage in our education and lives.
Regardless of politics, all members of the UChicago community should stand united in opposition to this insane administrative diktat. This shouldn’t be about right or left. It is much simpler than that. Do we want to spend our lives behind screens, terrified of a glorified flu? Or will we commit to resume living and learning? If we wish to be happy, healthy, thriving individuals, we must choose the latter.
Our demands are as follows:
1. We demand that the University of Chicago recommit to stellar, in-person instruction. Until it does so, we demand that the university implement a significant tuition reduction, specifically the portion of tuition devoted to classes and access to school facilities, for every week of in-person classes and campus amenities limited or denied.
2. We demand that the university provide full financial compensation for all students whose travel accommodations have been disrupted by its latest COVID decrees.
3. We demand that the university name those responsible for creating and implementing its COVID decrees, particularly its remote-learning policies.
4. Finally, we encourage all members of our university community to speak up. Call out the university’s COVID response for the idiocy it is. This won’t end, until we hold UChicago accountable.
The 2021-2022 Editorial Board of the Chicago Thinker:
Audrey Unverferth (Publisher & Editor-in-Chief, ’22)
Evita Duffy (Managing Editor, ’22)
Declan Hurley (Vice President, ’24)
Matthew Heck (Chief Newsletter Author and Senior Editor, ’22)
Chad Berkich (Senior Editor, ’24)
Sonni Fitzsimonds (Senior Editor, ’22)
Aidan Griffin (Senior Editor, ’23)
Eden Negussie (Senior Editor, ’24)
Mitchell Robson (Senior Editor, ’24)
Primary Author: Eden Negussie (Senior Editor, ’24)