Senator Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate's education committee, on Sunday questioned whether testing capacities for COVID-19 were adequate to reopen a large university campus in August. Alexander, a former U.S. Secretary of Education and president of the University of Tennessee, expanded on those thoughts during a Fox News interview Wednesday.
"If I were president of a university today, I would be planning on going back to school," he said, according to a transcript of the interview.
The exchange follows.
Fox News: Thanks so much for being on this morning, and Rufus [Alexander's dog], welcome to America's Newsroom as well. You referenced the University of Tennessee and the ability to open large universities and college campuses come the fall. You said you're concerned about that, while you heaped praise on the administration for the number of tests that have been conducted in this country so far. You suggested that we're still not where we need to be to, say, open the University of Tennessee in September, so what needs to be done? What are you calling on as far as more testing so that we can get kids back to school?
Senator Alexander: I'm glad you gave me a chance to do that. I think I created a little confusion there. Dr. Fauci was talking about treatments and vaccines. That's what he works on, and everyone knows that vaccines aren't going to be ready by August, and that some treatment medicines will be. But the good news was that tests should be, and if I were president of a university today, I would be planning on going back to school. I know that the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University is, and many other colleges are. And what I would do to answer your question is I would test every student as they came back. Every faculty member. That doesn't eliminate the disease, but it creates a place to isolate anybody sick and it creates confidence that it’s a safe place. I would work on spacing. I would have administrative staff stay home who weren't needed there. I would stagger the opening of school so that students arrived at different times. Faculty members can teach remotely. There are a number of steps. Masks can be used. We may have to have a culture of masks on college campuses for a while, but I think most students are looking forward to going back to college. And I think because of the advances in testing that we're now making in this country, they'll be able to.
Fox News: And then shortly after your hearing, as you probably know, the [California State University system] said, no, we're not coming back this fall. So you've got Americans waking up this morning saying, well, the chairman of this committee is telling us testing is being ramped up and you can send your kids back to campus this fall. And meanwhile, the University of California [sic] is saying, nope.
Senator Alexander: One great thing about our country is states could do what they want to do. Tennessee colleges, I think, are going back to school. President Mitch Daniels of Purdue University, which has 55,000 students, he's already announced they're planning to come back and they're developing plans that university will use to keep the students safe, and the students want to come back. So it'll be a state-by-state, campus-by-campus decision. But I believe as principals and headmasters and chancellors and university presidents and students look at August, they'll become increasingly comfortable with going back to school.