• Rich Barlow

    Senior Writer

    Rich Barlow

    Rich Barlow is a senior writer at BU Today and Bostonia magazine. Perhaps the only native of Trenton, N.J., who will volunteer his birthplace without police interrogation, he graduated from Dartmouth College, spent 20 years as a small-town newspaper reporter, and is a former Boston Globe religion columnist, book reviewer, and occasional op-ed contributor. Profile

Comments & Discussion

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There are 29 comments on BU Will Suspend Students Who Host or Attend Large Gatherings

    1. No. The Governor’s order (#2046) does not block private institutions from adding their own additional restrictions, and neither does city, state, or federal law.

      1. The exemption in the Governor’s order pertains to private institutions on their own property.
        This BU policy cannot legally extend to outdoor unenclosed public property.
        Moreover, there is a separate exemption for political and religious expression.

        So this policy is in violation of the law.

        1. But let’s talk not just about the letter of the law, but right and wrong.

          This policy would suspend BU students for attending a safe, distanced, outdoor political rally or march, like this weekend’s Ride For Black Lives. Not to mention that it would suspend only students but would not penalize other members of the BU community engaging in the same activity.

      2. If this number, 25, is significant enough to cause an issue outside of BU classrooms, it is significant enough to cause an issue inside BU classrooms that currently do not have a limit of 25 but 27: “Elmore said, he will suspend for the fall semester students who host or attend on- or off-campus gatherings exceeding 25 people, which is not a random number, but follows the Massachusetts limit on indoor congregations.” This discrepancy points to the arbitrary nature of the policies that favor the admin’s decision to reopen and penalize students and does not follow the general MA guidelines; and as Prof. Phillips points out, this has a limiting impact for students to engage in the major social justice movement we are currently in. Furthermore, this letter advocates students getting involved in policing their neighbors in ways that can and will have adverse impacts and could potentially be dangerous. One of my own colleagues’ brother did as Dean Elmore advised and got punched in the face. Is BU ready to deal with these types of aggressions that will come from this official advice to police and warn others about their mask and conduct? I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Boston Police not wearing their masks at all or even properly. The bottom line is that re-opening is a DANGEROUS choice. Roll back re-opening now.

  1. Committed response, or more threats to the student body? I’m amazed that people are so shortsighted as to welcome the University setting a precedent for such draconian measures. I find these types of proclamations far more alarming than I do comforting—regardless of the extraordinary circumstances. Those who feel encouraged by these latest actions should take pause.

  2. Does this apply to hopefully responsible, socially distanced protests that the university was encouraging students to attend 3 months ago, that are still occurring?

  3. But how can classes have more than 25 students (some of which in windowless rooms, poor ventilation, no HEPA filters…)

    And what if students get together in a group of 24, no masks, all drinking together. Apparently that would be fine?

    And then they go to a 3 hour class on Monday (say it’s one that’s over 25 students), and if anyone had contracted the virus from the 24-person gathering, they expose their entire class and professor.

    But then no one in this class will be told they have had contact with a positive case (As per BU’s refusal to notify faculty if they have come into contact with a positive case). After class students get on the T back to their dorms, exposing people on the packed green line (including members of the community beyond BU). The instructor takes the T home to their family until they get tested again…

    These policies are not iron-clad and leave much room for threat to health and safety.

  4. I was reading the email that was sent out yesterday while I was waiting in line at a food truck near my office. There were 40+ people in line to place an order or waiting around the truck for their food to come out.

    That’s a “large gathering” under the BU guidance, right?

    If I was a student I could be suspended from the University for waiting in line for a food truck? Is the policy really that repressive?

  5. For an administration so vocal about being scientific, this one is engaging in a lot of magical thinking.

    Groups of students with over 25 people? Bad.
    Groups of students *in the classroom* with over 25 people? Good.

    Contact tracing? Good.
    Contact tracing that could destabilize the LfA learning model? Bad.

    It seems that a lot of current policy and operating procedure is based on the administration keeping its collective fingers crossed that none of the countless things likely to go wrong in this insanely complicated and dangerously rickety re-opening plan actually goes wrong. Are corporations supposed to operate on 100 wings and a prayer?

  6. Sorry, but the lion’s share of the blame for any gatherings of more than 25 people belongs to the administration for proceeding on the false premise that it’s safe and ethically OK to gather tens of thousands of people together in the middle of a still-raging pandemic.

    One thing that is emerging pretty clearly in all this confusion is that the likelihood of lawsuits from all directions is going up pretty fast–from faculty and staff who have been denied basic protections; from Boston residents who contract COVID-19 as a result of exposure to members of the BU community; from students who get angry when they see what LfA is actually like (people sitting in a classroom with masks and headsets, staring at the Zoom session on their laptops). Is the Board of Trustees paying attention?

  7. I am highly disappointed in the BU administration for releasing such a poorly thought out, incomplete, and confusing email yesterday. Several essential questions were left unanswered, including how or if the policy applies to students living at home, who may not be in Massachusetts or even the US while this policy is in effect. There was also no through given to how this could affect student jobs, either at home or in Boston, that may require students working to support themselves to be exposed to groups of more than 25 people at a time. Why is there no warning system in place? Yes, this is a serious issue, but I fail to see how immediately suspending a student would achieve a drastically different result than issuing a strong warning and initiating a mandatory 14-day quarantine period. I stand with others who have called this policy “draconian.” The Dean of Student’s office was unable to provide any clarity on these issues yesterday in response to phone calls.

    Adding to my disappointment and incredulity is the one-sided, utopian view that this article takes. The author has quoted several students speaking in support of the policy, but has glossed over students with very valid critiques in favor of citing the rebuttals to their arguments. Where is the equal voice for all parties?

    1. Regrettably, BU Today has demonstrated more often than not during the last many months that they exist to promote the admin’s agenda. They allow for dissent in their comments, but rarely provide equal voice in their content.

    2. I also wonder about Black Lives Matter protests… Can students be suspended for attending a protest? Racism is another major pandemic that needs everyone to contribute to fighting against.

  8. The university actively encourages thousands of 18-22 years old from across the country to come and live in close proximity to one another, and then decides if reopening fails the blame will lie with these students. They have created all the right conditions and environment for large gatherings to happen, and now say its up to the individual behavior to ensure success. Yes, the responsibility is shared by everyone and it would be highly irresponsible for students to throw parties during a pandemic. It is also irresponsible institutionally for the university to open back up in-person and put 1000s of faculty, staff, students, and community members at risk in the first place.

  9. The university keeps springing things like this policy, or the announcement about faculty not being notified when their students test positive for COVID, on people at the last minute, seemingly in hopes that it will be too late for anyone to push back. Just wait until the students find out what LfA is actually like: I think we’ll see that they are quite willing to push back at that point, regardless of the lateness of the timing.

  10. While it’s good to see the administration taking some, minimal responsibility for reducing spread through the BU community, the way this policy has been implemented is hypocritical and short-sighted.

    As others have pointed out, it is bizarre that BU would apply such draconian enforcement of the state’s indoor gathering restrictions for off-campus social events, while blatantly ignoring those same restrictions in its own classrooms. This is highlighted by the fact that they must exempt school-sponsored events from their own rules.

    The policy, as written, is also terminally vague, to the point where there are many instances I can imagine where the applicability of these new rules would be unclear: If I attend an outdoor event, such as a concert or movie screening, with more than 25 people in an open space, is that grounds for suspension? What about participating in a protest rally with more than 25 participants? What about attending a socially-distanced wedding or funeral, where I may not know the exact guest count?

    Any disciplinary policy serious enough to mandate immediate, one-strike suspension from the university should be crystal clear, without room for ambiguity. The fact that BU’s rules are more restrictive than those of the state, while simultaneously being less clear is cause for substantial concern that this will be enforced in a haphazard and punitive manner, as is the fact that this policy was announced only a week before the semester is due to begin.

  11. This is yet another clear instance of BU’s abnegation of its responsibility as an institution for the health and safety of its members. Certainly, students are responsible for the consequences of their decisions and their behavior. They are autonomous, free adults and as such, they bear responsibility for their choices. I’ll not argue that point. However, if we are to speak on the level of institutional viability, any system that relies on the perfect performance of individual humans (to say nothing of teenagers and 20-year-olds) for success is a bad system which can only end in collapse and that is the crux of the matter. BU has implemented a brittle, unsustainable system built on unreasonable expectations. The punishments are draconian because the system is crude without any stopgaps and it relies on unsophisticated methods like shame and fear.

    This is particularly laughable in light of BU’s recent policy decision not to inform students and instructors when a student they share a classroom space with tests positive for the virus – a staggeringly hypocritical and dangerous decision, which you can read about here: http://www.bu.edu/articles/2020/citing-student-privacy-bu-faculty-wont-be-told-if-students-test-positive-for-covid-19/. If BU were truly committed to the health and safety of its community, it would focus on the elements of infrastructure and system design it does have control over and adhere to best practices with respect to contact tracing. Instead in a blatant PR move BU is focusing on student behavior as a shield to hide behind when this house of cards inevitably comes tumbling down.

    The worst part is, there will be very real and very serious consequences for this poor policy and it is those who are most vulnerable in the system who will truly bear the brunt of them. It strains credulity to think that BU, home of some of the best and brightest minds with vast human resources within its grasp, is acting in good faith. Shame on BU.

    1. Please don’t lump the faculty with the administration on this matter. To the best of my knowledge, the faculty was neither consulted nor notified in advance about these Draconian policies. We are just here to teach, apparently.

      1. I certainly did not intend to lump faculty in with the administration, so I appreciate you pointing out that miscommunication and I’m grateful for this opportunity to clarify. When I refer to ‘BU’ what I mean is the administration – in particular, those members of the administration acting in a leadership capacity and making decision for the university as an institution. When I note that BU is ‘home to some of the best and brightest minds with vast human resources within its grasp,’ I only mean to point out that BU has access to a wide array of strong, informed voices from range of disciplines, but chooses ignore those voices. I’d like to note that Daniel Star in particular has been a strong advocate. I know that faculty were largely neither consulted, nor heard when they (quite bravely) spoke up anyway, and that they have also had very little choice throughout this process. I do not mean to suggest otherwise. Thank you for pointing out that ambiguity in my original post.

  12. How unethical of BU to encourage tens of thousands of students from around the world to be brought into close proximity by reopening the dorms.

    BU created LfA to justify both the usual tuition hike and the opening of student housing while claiming to have established a safe virtual learning environment

    It’s no coincidence that this letter was only sent after tuition and housing charges were finalized. BU claims to prioritize student safety yet only their profits appear protected when class sizes violate the very rule that would have students dismissed and evicted without refunding tuition nor rent.

    The university reopened in bad faith, this is only more apparent now than it already was before.

  13. Just another misguided decision by incompetent, arrogant, and clueless administrators.

    Most of them would not survive a week in the real world. They must finally be held accountable for their mistakes, deceit, and endangering the health and lives of students, faculty and staff.

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