Furman’s track-record for setting good pandemic policy is hardly stellar. However, the university has, in the past, received unfair backlash from the student body for its COVID-19 protocols, even though its blunders have largely resembled those of its collegiate peers. What’s more, previous errors have often seemed the natural product of informational development rather than administrative indifference. Once briefed accordingly, Furman’s administration has usually adjusted standards with prudence and foresight — the university’s vaccinations and booster requirements, for example, surely testify to that.
But Furman’s mistakes this year do not reflect the same prudence as earlier errors. They are not a result of shifting government guidelines or new scientific discoveries but rather administrative laziness and oversight. Apathy is not a quality we hope to see in our university administrators, and to observe our own higher-ups indifferent to students’ pandemic experiences is frustrating, and frankly unacceptable. What are these mismanagements, one might ask, that have proven reprehensible, and what makes this year’s developments distinct? The answers lie in Furman’s updated isolation measures and the reality of what Furman Focused does, and does not, tell you.
This semester, Furman has failed to provide students even the baseline necessities for a safe isolation stay — that is, for those “lucky” enough to claim one of the limited spaces available for quarantining. Furman Focused indicates that quarantine rooms are currently reserved only for “international students and students who live far away.” While one could argue that those with the ability to go home should, as providing for isolated students drains university resources unnecessarily, that in and of itself is a weak argument. Countless other universities have provided accommodations for all students (Union College, for example, has been highlighted by the New York Times for its comprehensive isolation measures).
Therefore, it should be within Furman's purview to provide housing for those without readily accessible isolation options. However, Furman has defined "far away" in very case sensitive terms, meaning they offer very few students the option to stay on campus. In fact, students with 17+ hour drives home have been told that they lived too close for on-campus isolation and, after protesting, a student was encouraged by an administrator to book a local Airbnb (at the cost of the student’s family) before being offered an on-campus room at her request. To make matters more confusing, in an interview with The Paladin, Furman's Director of Housing and Residence Life Ron Thompson said, "What we have not said is go get an Airbnb or stay at a hotel." So, how well does Furman truly know their own quarantine policies?
Securing an on-campus isolation space is just the beginning of students’ plight this semester. A recent email sent to a positive student isolating on-campus said that Furman was “unable to offer [them] medical support or meal delivery” for the duration of their stay. Interestingly, instead of explicitly stating this information in the most recent Furman Focused update, the administration instead quoted the following: "Students in isolation on campus will receive guidance on how to access food from dining services utilizing our sick meal protocol." This statement, though, is misleading on the part of the administration because it does not explicitly say that Furman has discontinued meal delivery services, nor does it state students will be responsible for coordinating their own food delivery.
This year, meal drop-offs are no more. Instead, the university instructs isolating students to rely on the generosity of their peers to deliver food. This protocol is an iteration of a 2011 university policy known as the "sick meal program." In the same interview cited above, Thompson described the sick meal protocol as follows:
"If a student is in isolation or low to no contact, or they don't feel like getting their own meal, they could use the sick meal program. That could be a friend, apartment mate, roommate, could be an RA, could be just about anybody. If they don't have anybody, they could just let us know, and we'd be more than happy to have an RA go get their food."
However, in some communications to a student in isolation, Furman made no mention of RA assistance and instead instructed to "have another student go to the Dining Hall and obtain a meal for you." In short, Furman is suggesting students use aspects of an archaic program functional only through peer support to obtain food in isolation — that hardly seems acceptable.
Regarding medical aid, Furman's hesitancy to provide isolating students medical assistance is concerning. While Omicron does appear to present milder symptoms than earlier strains, that is not to say students lack the potential for severe infection. Furman should have more comprehensive provisions in place if only to ensure that, should "the worst" occur, appropriate aid could be administered swiftly and without delay.
In addition to inadequate food and medical assistance, in one instance a student was originally placed in an isolation space without a working microwave or stove in their assigned apartment, and after alerting the administration, endured relocation while experiencing symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue. Said experiences only further emphasize the lack of forethought the administration has placed into student isolation experiences. While one cannot expect them to predict mechanical breakdowns, they should at the very least know if students are being placed into apartments with functioning appliances.
Importantly, it is not only the students who have tested positive feeling the ramifications of a scattered and dismissive administration. Multiple students have cited difficulties communicating with university health officials about appropriate isolation and quarantining measures when they or a roommate has been exposed. For instance, while in some cases infected students have been removed from dorms or apartments, in other cases, students have remained with a known-positive roommate with little explanation as to why they were not relocated. Not only do these unclear protocols endanger infected students, but they also jeopardize the health and safety of co-habitants by increasing their probability of infection.
In sum, Furman’s current Covid policies are a clear sign of administrative thoughtlessness. And unlike earlier errors, these missteps cannot be attributed to a sudden change in the pandemic’s trajectory — the university was well aware of the difficulties Omicron would pose this January, as Dean Cassidy explicitly articulated Furman's concerns to Fox Carolina on January 7. Thus, the university’s unwillingness to pivot and alter their policies to better serve the safety of their students is grounds for serious objection.
If, as Furman Focused boldly states, the university was truly focused on “the health and safety of the campus community…[and its] students’ academic goals,” Furman must reconsider their isolation protocols now, and they must do so in an earnest and deliberate manner. We cannot expect perfection from our administration, yet we cannot settle for abandonment.
When asked for specific comment, Furman Focused defaulted to the details on the website