Student government leaders urge University to reconsider Sunrise Plan

Student leaders expressed concerns about the plans to reopen campus — plans that were made without student consultation.

Brooke Sheehy

Student government leaders urge University to reconsider Sunrise Plan
Student leaders expressed concerns about the plans to reopen campus — plans that were made without student consultation.

Student government leaders wrote a letter on Sept. 2 to President Gabel and the Board of Regents asking for a special session to discuss the Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan and a modality shift to fully online teaching.

A group of nine students across the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester campuses wrote the letter one day after the plans for reopening were released to the public without consultation from student leadership. Student government leaders had previously written a letter asking to be consulted before any decisions were finalized.

“Our letter urged the University to reconsider [the Sunrise Plan] during a meeting of the Board of Regents so that there could be greater public input from students, faculty, staff and community members,” said Amy Ma, the Twin Cities undergraduate student body president. “We have not heard back about the letter, but the Regents did not seem inclined to weigh in on the decision during the [September] meeting.”

The letter said that reopening the residence halls with students from across the country — many from states with no or partial mask-wearing mandates and social distancing procedures — would create a petri dish for a potential COVID-19 outbreak. And should there be an outbreak, thousands of students living in the residence halls would be unable to return home because they could potentially spread the outbreak to their communities beyond campus.

“By using this plan, our University would back itself into a corner which will only
result in the sickness of students, the pain of their loved ones, and the emotional and material
strain that is bound to come with it,” the letter said.

The decision to reopen campus signals to all future classes that the institution values revenue more than the health and lives of their students and employees, the letter said.

“It goes without saying that this will hurt our reputation far more than a $350 million loss in revenue will,” the letter said. “The University has taken up the rhetoric of wanting to protect its community and now we must follow suit with decisive actions and plans in line with that rhetoric.”

While the nine student contributors have not heard back directly regarding the letter, following the letter’s creation, members from the student government are now in contact with the committee that created the Sunrise Plan.

“We are being updated every Thursday for about 30 minutes directly following the fall plan scenario committee,” said Briggs Tople, chair of the Student Senate Consultative Committee. “And so I believe that’s directly in relation to our letter.”

Mattea Allert, speaker for the Council of Graduate Students, said the student organization decided to back the Minnesota Student Association with this letter because of their concern for the wellbeing of the campus and the surrounding community.

“The plan doesn’t affect the graduate students as much because we are still able to have in-person classes for programs that need it,” Allert said. “It’s just mostly our concern for the University community and the undergraduates on campus.”

The University of Wisconsin-Madison released a statement on Wednesday that all classes would move online for the next two weeks. This decision was made after campus testing centers saw a spike in COVID-19 during the first week of classes. Students in two of the largest residence halls on campus must be tested for COVID-19 and quarantine for the two weeks classes are online.

“With colleges nationwide struggling to contain outbreaks, we have to assume that the same thing will happen on our campus,” Ma said. “MSA has released a statement asking the University to go fully online to protect the health and safety of our University community.”