The University of Missouri has expelled two students and suspended three others for violating the university’s coronavirus safety policies. The university said these students were held accountable for “willful and knowing actions that threatened the safety of [the] campus and community” in a press release sent Tuesday. It also mentioned that 11 student organizations are currently under investigation for similar violations.
MU spokesperson Christian Basi said nine of these organizations have been suspended temporarily, and two are under investigation with their suspensions lifted. Basi said the university hopes these punishments will be a signal about how serious they are taking the virus.
“We are not putting these restrictions in place simply because we can,” Basi said. “This is a public health pandemic, the likes of which this university hasn’t seen in decades.”
There have been 470 cases reported to the university’s Office of Student Conduct and Accountability for possible violations of coronavirus policies. Basi said these cases have been reported by staff, MUPD and students.
Elizabeth Rothenberg is the managing director of EAB, a national firm that researches challenges within education. She said disciplinary measures similar to what the university is enforcing could prevent the willingness of students to report large social gatherings and participate in contact tracing.
“A lot of schools have a medical amnesty policy, which means you don’t get in trouble because you’ve gotten help for your friend,” she said. “And my worry is that some of these very draconian sanctions mean that other people won’t come forward and say, ‘Hey I was at that off-campus party too, I should probably get tested.’”
Rothenberg said she recommends a three-prong strategy for universities to reduce transmission. This strategy includes steady communication to students about the importance of social distancing and wearing masks, using social media and peer influencers to spread messages and sanctions or punishments as the last resort for students who aren’t complying.
There are currently 332 active cases on MU’s campus, and 1,015 individuals have recovered.