These past two weeks have proven to be quite eventful for Miami University.
Underclassmen began to move into dorms Sept. 14, and simultaneously, the viral video of a police officer confronting a student having a house party while positive for COVID-19 made headlines from news sources ranging from TMZ to The Washington Post.
But what does this all mean for Miami’s reputation?
During a town hall meeting Sept. 9, Provost Jason Osborne said the decision to come back was influenced by the actions of other Ohio universities and how those would compare to Miami’s reputation.
“What we’d be saying to our students is that we can’t do this when all our neighboring universities can,” Osborne said.
A lot of universities across the nation are dealing with rising COVID-19 cases as not all students are complying with social-distancing guidelines. Miami is no different, and community members were forced to face the implications of the viral video on Miami’s reputation.
Class of 2020 Miami graduate Makenzie Mercer believes the video showcases a selfishness displayed by certain students.
“It shines a light on some of the more deeply-rooted issues at Miami,” Mercer said, “this culture of entitlement. This group of boys didn’t see anything wrong with the fact that they were partying together even though they had tested positive.”
Mercer pointed to the lack of punishment for racism on campus, sexual assault cases and hazing in Greek life as further evidence of Miami students contributing to a sense of entitlement.
“I don’t know what it’s going to take for the administration to want to do more,” Mercer said.
Junior public health major Morgan Manski questioned how many cases it would take for the university to shut down.
“If I were a freshman or sophomore [right now], I’d be asking when they’re going to send me home,” Manski said.
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University officials have previously said they do not anticipate sending students home if an on-campus outbreak occurs. They might issue a shelter-in-place order, but they don’t want students to return home and potentially spread COVID-19 to their communities.
Some people, like Miami parent Laura Herrick, believe the university cannot be solely responsible.
“I think that the behavior of the people in the video was more indicative of the way that they have been taught at home than it was of anything Miami is teaching them,” Herrick said.
Osborne understands that most students are complying with regulations but realizes that everyone is navigating life during a pandemic for the first time.
“We’re all trying to do the right thing,” Osborne said. “Students make mistakes, faculty make mistakes, everyone makes mistakes. We’ve got to recover from this. But we’ve also got to hold people accountable.”
While Brent Shock, vice president for enrollment management and student success, agrees that students making mistakes is a part of growing up, he also thinks Miami’s reputation is still largely positive.
Citing Miami’s retention, graduation and post-graduate employment rates, Shock also recognizes the importances of viral events like the video that could affect how outsiders might see the university.
“Any time you have something that sort of comes up against [the positivity], you have to wonder, well, what is this?” Shock said. “What do we need to do? Where I’m always thinking is how does this appear to the general public who might be interested in sending their son or daughter to Miami?”
Vice President for Student Affairs Jayne Brownell details what conversations look like within the administration when controversial instances like the party video come to light.
“Every single thing about this is urgent,” Brownwell said. “[The President’s cabinet] is talking to the President multiple times every day, seven days a week, and into the evenings. So when something goes viral, it’s not like we need to get another meeting together. We are already talking all day every day keeping track of things.”
Class of 1989 graduate Leslie Dickson realizes that it is in every institution’s best interest to reopen but to remember the level of ambiguity at stake here.
“I’m not sure what the correct answer is,” Dickson said, “but certainly if you’re going to [reopen], you’re going to have to really enforce the [social-distancing] protocols.”
It is no secret that Miami is struggling when it comes to revenue.
In the Sept. 9 town hall meeting, it was outlined that no matter what path the university chose to take for the remainder of the semester, Miami faces at least a $50 million revenue decline for the semester.
Provost Osborne outlined in the meetings that David Creamer, the university’s vice president of finance and business services, made it a point to denote that revenue would not be the deciding factor in the fate of the semester.
“We can’t just bring everyone back for the sake of the money and have everyone get sick,” Osborne said. “For the long term financial stability of the university, that would be the worst outcome.”
Universities are being watched under a microscope by the public and any wrong step can lead to any university’s reputation being called into question.
“I think, unfortunately, it’s a no-win situation for the administration for any university in this country,” Herrick said. “Whatever decisions you make, there’s potentially going to be a negative outcome for somebody in any direction. That can be potentially devastating from a PR standpoint and a financial standpoint.”
Brownell details what the administration would need to see to consider this semester a success and how COVID-19 was never something that anyone was going to be able to avoid.
“There was no way that it was going to be in the rest of the country and not Oxford,” Brownell said. “Success is going to be an even number of cases across time that will allow us to stay open without becoming an outbreak. If we have a spike, we do what we need to do for a week or two to bring the numbers back down. Success is getting to Thanksgiving together.”
Osborne knows the university is being watched closely by the Miami community and details on how being in the spotlight makes them pay extra attention to how they proceed.
“It helps us stay true to the core values of Miami because we know every decision is going to be looked at through that lens,” Osborne said. “When you’re making administrative decisions and you lose sight of those values, that’s where things start to go awry.”