Paul L. Caron
Dean




Monday, April 13, 2020

Will Universities, Colleges, And Law School Campuses Be Open In Fall 2020?

CoronavirusWBUR, Boston University Coronavirus Plan Includes Possible January 2021 Reopening:

Boston University may delay reopening its campus until January 2021, the school said in a university news article Friday. The move comes as universities across New England and the country evaluate ways to keep their fall semesters intact while adhering to best practices for public health.

Mike Spivey (Spivey Consulting Group), Will Universities, Colleges, And Law School Campuses Be Open In Fall 2020?:

The short answer is that there is no definitive answer yet. Universities and law schools aren’t ready to make a decision because the pandemic is so fluid and there is so much uncertainty, nor do they have to yet. But the question is being discussed on a daily basis, and we have spent a good deal of time speaking with college presidents, provosts, and deans and trying our best to get the most recent and trust-worthy epidemiological modeling and medical community input.

This podcast condenses those two perspectives — that of higher education and that of the medical community — into a prediction for the fall. Our prediction, based on speculation, and which we are going to devote continuous attention to over the next several months, is that it is likely many colleges and universities will not have on-campus classes this fall. ...

What about law schools, the area our firm has the most expertise in?

The dynamics are a little bit different here because law schools generally don’t have, or don’t have to have, student housing. ... In fact, we think some law schools will open and some will remain closed.

For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2020/04/will-universities-colleges-and-law-school-campuses-be-open-in-fall-2020.html

Coronavirus, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink

Comments

People under 25 are not at serious risk of death or hospitalization for COVID-19. Of the first 5K deaths in the US, there were 6 deaths among the 24 and younger crowd. Schools should not be closed now, much less in the Fall. Universities should be considering "teach out" options for faculty and staff in high risk groups and otherwise continuing business as usual. Fear is driving some really horrible decisions around this virus.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 14, 2020 1:55:04 PM

The article states that “Our prediction, based on speculation, and which we are going to devote continuous attention to over the next several months, is that it is likely many colleges and universities will not have on-campus classes this fall.”

Indeed, one reason for not having on-campus classes this fall is that many faculty members, especially those at especially high risk, may not want to chance exposure to the coronavirus which seem unavoidable in any classroom setting, and they may use - or at least threaten to use - various legal remedies to protect themselves.

Most experts agree that, by September, the peak (or plateau) of the COVID-19 disease will have long since passed, there will no longer be major shortages or overcrowding in hospitals due to the virus, and much more will be known about how to more effectively treat those afflicted with COVID-19.

However the experts also seem to agree that, come fall, there will still be many tens of millions of people infected (some unknowingly) with the coronavirus who will remain highly contagious, and that even widespread testing and wearing masks cannot eliminate the risk of death and/or grave illness (including permanent damage to brains and lungs), especially to those who are most vulnerable (anyone over 60 OR with a wide variety of medical conditions including obesity).

Fortunately, several articles outline what faculty concerned about contracting COVID-19 in the classroom can do to protect themselves and their families.

CAN YOUR BOSS MAKE YOU COME TO WORK DURING CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK?
https://bit.ly/2RA0e2w
The article notes that "the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has a 'General Duty Clause' [Section 5(a)(1)] that requires workplaces to offer environments that are 'free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.' 'COVID-19 counts as something that is likely to cause serious injury or death,' Reice said."

The "General Duty Clause" permits any employee to a file formal legal complaint regarding workplace hazards, anonymously if desired, even if no specific binding rule or regulation has been violated, and then prohibits any form of subsequent retaliation by employers. See, e.g.,
EMPLOYERS CANNOT RETALIATE AGAINST WORKERS WHO REPORT UNSAFE CONDITIONS DURING CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC, OFFICIALS SAY
https://bit.ly/3b8R5pd

For example, I was able to use general duty complaints, and even the threats of complaints, to prompt companies and universities (including GWU) to protect employees from secondhand tobacco smoke, even though there were no rules - nor even official guidance - regarding these risks.

OSHA apparently does have guidance (which may change from time to time) - but no legal rules - to protect employees from exposure to the coronavirus, so professors at high risk required to teach in a classroom setting, before an effective vaccine becomes widely available, could file a formal complaint with the federal OSHA and/or their local state’s OSHA under this general duty clause.

Finally, this article provides other legal remedies for concerned employees at high risk.
MY EMPLOYER SAYS I HAVE TO COME IN TO WORK, BUT I’M AT A HIGHER RISK FOR CORONAVIRUS COMPLICATIONS / LIVE WITH SOMEONE WHO IS HIGH-RISK / DON’T FEEL SAFE GOING TO WORK. WHAT CAN I DO?
https://bit.ly/2yYQqst
It says “you can request leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which is mostly unpaid but was expanded to include some paid leave during the pandemic. You can request accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) but it will largely depend on if your health condition or risk factor is considered a disability. Diabetes, for example, is considered a disability, but being over 60 would likely not." [A special sensitivity or greater risk - e.g., from exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke - has long been held to be a legally-protected disability under the ADA]

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Apr 13, 2020 8:17:16 PM