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Guest view: Montana Tech must take action on COVID
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Guest view: Montana Tech must take action on COVID

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For a university to fulfill its mission of educating students, a learning environment conducive to learning must be provided. Such an environment must be one in which students, faculty and staff feel secure and safe. People must not believe that being on campus is dangerous to their health. Under current administrative practices, faculty, staff and students at Montana Tech are not safe from the COVID pandemic.  

Tech is far from doing enough to produce a safe environment. Only a small minority on campus wear masks. Social distancing has disappeared. We don’t even quarantine people who are sick.  And the administration promotes activities where people are in close proximity with no masks. The COVID-19 pandemic is a clear and present danger to Tech’s educational mission and to the faculty, staff and students of Montana Tech. The Montana Tech administration, as MSU and U of M are doing, must pursue and promote the institution and enforcement of a mandatory mask wearing mandate and a Covid vaccine mandate.

Covid has not gone away. We are having another, deadly spike in cases and hospitalizations. Data provided by the Butte Health Department amply proves this point.

Reliance on people doing the right thing and on “personal responsibility” is not protective and is not working. We have not seen an abundance of personal responsibility on the Tech campus, and even if we did, it only takes a few bad actors to hurt the many. The longing for normality must be checked by the reality that we are going in the wrong direction with regard to COVID. It is time for the Tech administration to stop living in a fantasy land of hope and illusion.

The above contentions were buttressed by the memo sent September 6 by the administration to the campus. On the one hand the memo points to the dire conditions in Butte regarding the raging COVID pandemic and, contradictorily, it touts and praises potential disease spreader events like the convocation, tailgating, athletic events, Club Rush, and Orientation events. The administration can’t have it both ways: Either there is a serious pandemic, as there is, or there is not.

In order to control COVID the following, according to the CDC, are necessary: masks, vaccinations, social distancing and quarantining.

None of this is being done on a large enough scale at Tech. The administration must end the mixed messaging of saying faculty, staff and students should wear masks and socially distance and then tolerate, sponsor and promote events that don’t even pretend to practice public health measures. Tech has more than a few bad actors on campus.

Many students, faculty and staff at Montana Tech fear for their lives having to come to work because of the COVID pandemic.  Many have pre exiting conditions that make them especially vulnerable. Some can’t get vaccinated. But they are being ignored. Their rights to work in a safe environment are being ignored. Individual faculty and staff cannot deal with this pervasive dread and threat; only the administration can redress this situation.

The Montana Constitution as well as abundant case law clearly establish that the university system is the master in its own house. Other branches of the University System have been proactive in dealing with the COVID crisis. Tech should follow their example and forcefully combat this threat. Why hasn’t the administration decisively acted to protect us?  (In Butte, both the public and private Catholic schools have been proactive in mandating masks. Perhaps little children should lead us.) 

Too many live in a fantasy world where we can return to normal now. I thought as a reality, science-based school, Tech was mature enough to face an unpleasant truth.

In short, I don’t know why the Tech administration is so scared to do the right thing by all of us.

If we want to fully bring this pandemic on campus to bay, aggressive, bold action on the part of Montana Tech’s administration is sorely needed.

I believe the administration is interested in protecting faculty, staff and students. But the present policy is not protective. As Lincoln said: “Let us strive to do what is right.”

Dr. John W. Ray is a professor at Montana Tech. He teaches classes in public policy, political science and government. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Montana Tech.

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