OSU coronavirus pledge draws conflicting views as college preps to reopen

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Several weeks before classes resume at the Ohio State University, a back-to-school requirement is drawing criticism.

In an update to the OSU community, the university announced all students, staff, and faculty must complete an online training course and sign the “Together as Buckeyes Pledge.”

“We are in the middle of a crisis and can see how our lives are intertwined and interconnected. So I think it’s a good idea,” said Navid Tabrizi, a graduate student at OSU.

The pledge is framed as part of a larger picture of mandatory “safe and healthy measures.” 

In a joint message on July 24, the university provost and chancellor for health affairs said, “If we fail to collectively maintain this culture of caring for ourselves and each other, we will not be able to be together on our campuses doing the things we love.”

A short online course explains the importance of hygiene and safety guidelines. The pledge includes statements about following the guidelines. But it was the language beyond that raising concerns among some at the university.

“When you read the document you just say, ‘Hold on. That’s not what we thought we were supposed to sign,’” said Guy Rub, a professor at the OSU Moritz College of Law.

Rub and others took to social media over the weekend, pointing out the pledge’s language. One section lists what some are calling unnecessary moral commitments. 

The passage reads, “I believe in excellence in all that we do and that it is important to embrace diversity in people and ideas; foster the inclusion of all Buckeyes; allow for access and affordability of an Ohio State education; subscribe to innovation around keeping the Buckeye community safe; and rely on collaboration and multidisciplinary endeavors to guide best practices. Last, I believe in the importance of transparency, integrity and trust.”

The July 24 message from university officials, which was again cited when seeking comment for this story, claims the pledge is not a legal waiver. However, some phrases make it apparent to Rub, an attorney, that the document was written by attorneys with the purpose of protecting the school from potential consequences of reopening.

One section reads, “I understand that COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus and it is possible to develop and contract the COVID-19 disease even if I follow all of the safety recommendations of the university and comply with the Pledge.”

 “The concern about signing something that might be interpreted as a waiver –or what’s technically an assumption of risk– is it diminishes your rights,” Rub explained.

He doesn’t plan to sign the pledge, though the university listed accountability measures for failing to do so, ranging from additional training and informal coaching to formal disciplinary action.

“I’m a faculty member, I have tenure, I can say no and I will. But I’m really concerned about other people,” Rub said. “If something happened, you want to maintain your legal rights. It’s not fair for an employee, especially the weakest employees, to give up their legal rights as a condition for basic continued employment.”

Another law professor proposed a “streamlined” version of the pledge, focusing on specific public health commitments and eliminating language that could be interpreted as a liability waiver.

“If you only want to promote public health, which I’m all for, let’s just have a short pledge that says that,” said Rub, agreeing he would sign such a pledge.

Ohio State’s fall semester begins Aug. 25.

Coronavirus in Ohio resources:

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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