Florida: Professors Can't Exclude Students Because of Fear of Virus

University acts after it received a complaint.

February 17, 2020
 
University of Florida

The University of Florida has said that faculty members may not exclude students from class because of fears they have coronavirus.

No one at the university has been reported to have the virus, but at least one professor was trying to exclude students from his course because of coughing. (Florida is currently experiencing the flu.)

The university's provost, Joseph Glover, sent this notice to deans and department chairs:

"We are aware that some instructors have asked students who are showing visible cold- or flu-like symptoms to leave class and return with a letter from the Student Health Care Center confirming that they do not have coronavirus. Please remind your instructors that no cases of coronavirus have been reported at UF or elsewhere in Alachua County and that this area has not been identified as an area of public health concern by the CDC. While instructors are encouraged to care for their students and their health, please inform your instructors that they are not to excuse a student from class to confirm they are free of the coronavirus."

The message included a link to an update provided by the university's health center director that no cases were reported at the university.

Churchill Roberts, a professor at Florida who is active in the faculty union, the United Faculty of Florida, said via email that he was "shocked" to learn that some faculty had ordered students to be checked for the virus before returning to class.

"First of all, there have been no reported cases of the virus in Gainesville or at the University of Florida. Secondly, it’s flu season, and a number of students show symptoms of various stages of the flu. A student in my class who had what was likely the flu missed a three-hour class session week before last but returned to class this past week -- still exhibiting some symptoms," he said. "Also, faculty aren’t trained to be medical police. If they suspect a student is ill and possibly contagious, they should report the matter to their department chair so that someone in administration can decide upon a course of action."

Roberts also said he was worried "that singling out particular students could be seen as a form of racial profiling. I can’t say for sure because I don’t know any of the students who were affected, but I can envision a scenario in which students of Asian descent who have a cough and/or cold might be asked to leave the classroom to be tested, whereas non-Asian students with a cough and/or cold might go unnoticed."

Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor of economics at Wright State University and national president of the American Association of University Professors, asked via email about the situation, agreed with the university.

"As it happens my brother is an infectious disease specialist at the University of Cincinnati, and I consulted him regarding your question. His response was that asking students to leave class and not come back until they have been tested is wrong and hysteria and likely discriminatory. In his view, no steps should be taken unless the health department or a health official calls on faculty to take some action," he said.

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