COVID-19 Response at TCU

As the TCU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, we write to urge immediate action in response to the grave COVID-19 situation at TCU. Our primary goal is protecting the health of TCU students, faculty, and staff. The Connected Campus plan is on the precipice of failure, putting not just TCU at risk, but also the surrounding community and the families of faculty, staff, and students. Last week, TCU students counted toward roughly 20% of new cases in Tarrant County, despite making up roughly 0.5% of the population. We have become a danger to public health. As Vice Chancellor Kathy Cavins-Tull wrote on Friday, “We literally cannot keep up with the pace of the spread we are experiencing this week.”

We want to stress that the situation at TCU is uniquely dangerous. We are consistently reporting more than 400 active cases, and positive tests among employees jumped sharply yesterday. Additionally, the reported number of active cases at TCU is almost certainly an underestimate. Unlike many other schools, we have no mandatory testing, charge for tests, and are not proactively testing students to identify asymptomatic cases. We rely on self-reporting of off-campus tests. This week, the Star-Telegram reported that some students have been getting tested off campus to avoid TCU’s numbers going up. We have also heard from faculty that some of their students feel sick, but are choosing not to get tested at all so as not to be quarantined.

The time to prevent community spread at TCU has passed. Now is the time to manage the disaster.

We call on TCU to modify its current policies to prevent the ongoing rapid spread of COVID-19 on our campus. Emails asking students to follow social distancing are wholly inadequate. We urge the university to consider moving fully online until we get a handle on the campus outbreak and create a safer learning environment for all concerned including students, faculty, and staff.

  • First, administration must start enforcing the existing policies. This should not fall on RAs and faculty to enforce. 
  • Second, those policies need to become more strict. The plans that led to the current outbreaks were clearly not thorough enough. TCU must ensure that these policies are enforced equitably and do not disproportionately affect Black and Brown students, faculty, and staff. 
  • Third, we need more transparency about testing. In particular, the university should report the number of tests on the COVID-19 case count website and the percent of positive tests each day from the health center.  
  • Fourth, we need a more robust containment plan that includes mandatory testing to determine whether in-person classes are feasible and weekly testing of all students, employees, and contractors who set foot on campus. Dr. Deborah Birx has recommended surge testing and mandatory entrance testing — something many peer institutions have implemented.
  • Fifth, we need clearly articulated and widely shared triggers for what will move us back online. Faculty and staff must have a say in what those triggers are. 
  • Sixth, faculty are prepared and dedicated to teaching our online classes at the same level of quality students expect from TCU. The university should send a clear statement to students, parents, and alumni that switching to online classes will maintain the world-class TCU education.
  • Finally, new policies and a switch to online teaching must be done in a just and equitable manner. We need to protect our contingent faculty and staff in the face of possible budget reductions due to moving online. Many TCU employees currently feel unsafe in terms of their health and their jobs. All current employees should have their contracts automatically renewed through the end of the 2021-22 AY. 

If TCU’s response to our COVID-19 crisis does not improve, we will have no choice but to urge faculty to move all classes online to preserve community health and safety in the short term. We will continue to speak out against what we see as unsafe conditions for our faculty, staff, students, and community in the future.

Published by Chip Stewart

Professor of Journalism at Texas Christian University. J.D. (University of Texas), LL.M. (University of Missouri), Ph.D. (University of Missouri). Former head of the Law & Policy Division at AEJMC. Founding editor of Community Journalism. Author of "Media Law Through Science Fiction: Do Androids Dream of Electric Free Speech?" (Routledge, 2020); co-author of "The Law of Public Communication" (11th ed., Routledge, 2020); editor of "Social Media and the Law" (2nd ed., Routledge, 2017).

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