ASUP criticizes administration for lack of communication on COVID-19

University spokesman says they’re following advice of state and federal health authorities

By Madison Pfeifer | March 11, 2020 8:57pm
The Associated Students of the University of Portland released a statement criticizing the Administration's lack of transparency amid the novel coronavirus. Photo by Jennifer Ng, Canva Created by Claire Desmarais

On Wednesday night, the Associated Students of the University of Portland (ASUP) posted a news release calling out the University administration for a lack of transparency amid the novel coronavirus crisis.

“At this time, we are increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of transparency regarding COVID-19 from the Administration at the University of Portland,” the news release said. “With little information regarding planned closures, confirmed cases, and crisis mitigation procedure, the students and faculty of the University could be placed in harm’s way by continuing normal routines.”

ASUP Director of Communications Ryan Thoms said the university hasn’t taken into consideration how students’ livelihoods could be affected if the school closes.

“We have students who rely on meal plans with the university who don't know whether or not they're going to have alternative food sources if the university were to shut down,” Thoms said. “And we have students who rely on employment and rely on those jobs and that money to sustain a livelihood.” 

In a campus-wide email sent March 7, University Provost Thomas Greene said the school was considering the possibility of a closure and preparing a contingency plan.

“We've heard from faculty that the university could be closing classes as soon as next week but we haven't heard anything from the administration as to whether or not classes will close and what sort of contingency plan is in place if classes do close,” Thoms said. “Simply telling us that online classes will be available isn't enough.”

In response to the news release, Vice President for Marketing and Communications Michael Lewellen said the administration has communicated all the information it has to the UP community. 

“We have been as transparent as possible based on all the information available to us,” Lewellen said. “We have maintained contact with the local, state and federal health authorities that we had access to.”

In a news conference call Sunday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) issued guidelines for higher-education saying closing down schools should be a last resort

Lewellen added that UP would not make the decision to cancel in-person classes based on what other universities have done. On March 11, Oregon State University, University of Oregon and Portland State University announced that they would switch to remote learning. 

“We continue to weigh all the options at our disposal and we will communicate any decisions that the university makes to all of our students, faculty and staff.”

Many students have heard reports that there are presumptive COVID-19 cases on campus, but The Beacon has not been able to confirm those reports. Lewellen said he was not aware of any presumptive COVID-19 cases at the university.

Maddie Pfeifer is the News and Managing editor. She can be reached at Austin De Dios contributed to this story.