Chancellor Rebecca Blank and other university administrators addressed their COVID-19 campus response concerns in a virtual meeting — Blank said the University of Wisconsin stands by their decision to reopen campus despite rising cases and community push back. 

Blank said cases on UW campus rose more quickly than expected and the university is hoping the two-week quarantine imposed on Sellery, Witte and Greek life houses as well as the two-week shift to online classes will help slow the spread. Compared to peer institutions who have had a rise in cases since their return to campus, UW has had a larger amount of cases, Blank said.

“I know not everyone is going to agree with this next statement, but I do believe the decision to open campus this fall was the right one for several reasons,” Blank said. “Whether we had been online early or we go online later, 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 home with mom and dad.”

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Blank said since many students are still living in dorms and off-campus apartments in Madison despite having the option to do classes remotely, the university wanted to offer some in-person classes to give students structure and expose them to safety measures. 

So far, no coronavirus cases on campus have been traced to in-person classes, Blank said. In response to anecdotal stories of students in Sellery and Witte breaking their quarantines, the university is planning on releasing clearer guidelines for students who are quarantined, Blank said. 

“I understand there’s some social meme out there saying we’re doing all of this simply to get past the deadline for tuition reimbursement,” Blank said. “I have to say, until someone showed that to me, I didn’t know when that date was.”

Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Laurent Heller said the date for a full tuition refund was Sept. 11, but the university is considering moving that back because of the shift to online classes, quarantines and other disruptions. So far the university has not seen many students withdrawing from classes, but Heller said around two percent of students in dorms have requested to end their contracts. 

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Blank said the university will continue to monitor areas of concern and quarantine groups as necessary. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori Reesor said students who violate public health guidelines by hosting large events or breaking their isolation and quarantines may risk suspension.

Blank said around 300 students have been investigated for student conduct violations and eight have been suspended. 

“There’s no single metric that flips … and we say that’s when we’re going to shut down,” Blank said. “All of [the metrics tracked] feeds into a decision as to … how we’re going to move forward with the rest of the semester. It’s not a single quantitative decision.”