As students returned to campus for the first time since March, it was only natural that rumors and confusion over COVID-19 would begin to circulate. These rumors included topics ranging from shutdown threshold numbers, isolation policies, confusion about rules and regulations as well as a myriad of mistruths and misinformation. In an effort to clear the air, the Dynamo arranged a series of interviews including several university and health officials. This is our first installment of “COVID-19 interviews” featuring President Thomas Botzman of the University of Mount Union.
Our interview began with a discussion about the confusion among students and others in the campus community over who is leading Mount Union's COVID-19 response, specifically who is determining the preventative measures and advising decisions about COVID-19. Botzman explained that Mount Union’s approach involves a committee of people including but not limited to Blaine Lewis, director of Mount Union’s physical plant to Melissa Gardner, vice president for marketing and other university officials.
“As far as how we operate, we’re getting advised by both the state‒and that would be Governor DeWine. I've been on with him, others have been on with other state officials," Botzman said. He went on to explain that he is also in close communication with the Alliance Family Health Center and the Alliance Health Department.
Botzman said he doesn't know much more about the potential threat level from COVID-19 than anyone else on campus. He then notes how he believes that the success of himself as well as his staff depends heavily on the success of the student body as a whole.
“Don’t quit on me and I won’t quit on you," Botzman said.
He stressed the importance of understanding that people have different circumstances and concerns than others. So how does the university know when someone contracts COVID-19? Well, Botzman explained that first, whoever suspects they have the virus hopefully gets tested. Those tests are first dealt with by health officials, who then notify the university. As far as information, Botzman said he is just about as much in the dark as the rest of the community, saying,
“I don’t know more than you do typically about that. I see the same information that we have on our website, that’s pretty much what I know," he explained.
One of the most widespread rumors amongst students on campus is the notion that the university has a threshold of 140 active cases in order to return to fully remote learning. Botzman strongly denied not only this threshold, but the very existence of any Mount Union-mandated threshold. Botzman added that he had not heard that rumor before and was unsure where someone would have gotten that number from.
“It would either be the state telling us we have to close or the local health authorities including the health department,” Botzman said, “I think all of us want answers so somebody made up an answer."
Botzman also spoke on the university's plans in the case that health department officials advise the school to return to remote learning, particularly whether students would be forced to return home. According to Botzman, it is an individual choice whether or not a student may return home or stay in the dorms, although it is strongly advised not to leave. Botzman confirmed that it was up to the sole discretion of public health officials in determining whether or not the university shuts down.
A major concern amongst a growing portion of the student body is that most organizations on campus such as Greek life and large student organizations are strong-armed into meeting virtually while various athletic organizations continue to meet in person.
“There is a difference between the outside bodies that are working with those groups," Botzman said, “not all of it is going to be fair, some of it is just going to have to be objective, what can you do? What can you not do?."
Botzman directed all of the Dynamo’s student conduct-related questions to John Frazier, vice president for student affairs and dean of students,
“I’m the president of the university, not the chief conduct officer in any way," he said.
He did mention that, in general, where problems might arise is when a student mentions that there is another student endangering them with their actions.He compared this scenario to other offenses such as having weapons or getting in your car, putting your key in and driving drunk to disregarding social distancing guidelines.
“There is no way that we can control all of your behavior," he said. "It's up to you to decide what you're going to do. One or two of us could really blow it for all of us, there has been confusion all through this and there will continue to be."