UW-Madison chancellor defends decision to bring students back

Becky Blank News Conf. Sept. 14 1280

MADISON, Wis. — University of Wisconsin-Madison chancellor Rebecca Blank gave an update on the school’s response to COVID-19 concerns during a news conference Monday afternoon and defended the decision to bring students back to campus for the fall semester amid the pandemic.

This was the first time we’ve heard from Blank since in-person instruction was suspended for two weeks, which was announced last Wednesday.

Blank said during the virtual conference that she believes opening campus this fall was the right call.

“Most of our students were going to be in Madison this fall, they were taking up their housing contracts. They did not want to be back in their bedrooms with Mom or Dad,” Blank said. “Better that they have some structure to their schedule with some in-person classes, lots of visible messaging about health protocols and access to in-person testing, (and) that will be true throughout the semester.”

Blank also defended her response to the uptick in cases on campus, which she says were more than what they expected, and more than what they had seen from peer universities. Blank said she’d still have students come to campus for the fall semester if she were faced with the same decision.

There are 22 fraternities and sororities at the UW-Madison under quarantine due to elevated levels of COVID-19 and two dorms. As of Monday, 2,138 students and 29 university employees have tested positive for the virus since Aug. 23, according to UW-Madison’s Smart Restart dashboard.

The university has done 30,000 tests over the past month and it is working closely with health experts. Blank said they’ll use that data to determine if a return to in-person instruction is possible.

UW-Madison is going to further increase testing and contact tracing efforts and is asking students to help out by following the rules, because a small number of violators can have a big effect.

Blank said 380 students are being investigated for violations and eight face suspension.

Officials said the university is considering moving back the reimbursement deadline until the two-week in-person hiatus is over. But officials said they haven’t received many requests from students to reimburse.

An online petition started by a student asking UW-Madison officials to return “some, if not all, of the nearly $750 they’ve charged students for the lackluster Fall 2020 semester” had more than 600 signatures Monday night.

Later on Monday, the UW-Madison Faculty Senate voted at a meeting on revising the 2021 spring calendar to eliminate spring break. Cutting the break discourages students and staff from traveling long distances and bringing the virus back to campus.