As an employee of Appalachian State University for more than 45 years, I have grave concerns about its lack of action concerning the horrendous spike in Covid-19 cases on the campus and in the community. ASU is a member of the High Country community, yet the lack of a strong response to its part in this growing community crisis is evidence that the institution and its leaders are not acting as good local citizens. While the university has a spotty record of community relations, often exacerbating the town-gown tension, nothing compares to the present circumstance. The university should be modeling good, responsible citizenship for students, staff and the community. Instead, the administration is demonstrating the opposite.
The exponential rise in campus cases is now mirrored by increases in community infections. Watauga Medical Center has recently expressed alarm that it will soon be overwhelmed by increasing cases requiring hospitalization. The faculty senate and other faculty at ASU warned the administration months ago about what would happen if the university buried its head in the sand and opened the campus to 20,000 students living in cramped quarters on campus and in town. Any reasonable person could have predicted this outcome. Now we are in the midst of a community disaster, and it is past time that the university swallow its superficial pride in the “Appalachian family” and send students home for fully remote learning. If not, I fear that the university and the community that I have called home since 1972 will be forever damaged.
I have made the High Country and its people my home and now that I’m retired I plan to live out my life here. The COVID-19 spike is a matter of life and death. If the university administration sticks to its present course, it will be choosing death over life. Damage has been done, but a change in course can reduce that damage. The university administration needs to answer two basic questions: If not you, then who? If not now, when?