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Senate calls for increased transparency on COVID risk analysis

| Friday, August 21, 2020

The second student senate meeting of the school year convened via Zoom on Thursday to discuss the current state of Notre Dame affairs.

The session began with a call to action from senior student body president Rachel Ingal. 

“We really just need to be intentional with all of our actions and be very accountable and understanding,” Ingal said. “Keep kindly having those educational conversations with our friends. I would urge you to not resort to shameful tactics but just be informative, talking about the science.”

Co-directors of the First Undergraduate Experience in Leadership (FUEL), seniors Kevin Gallagher and Fritz Schemel then updated the senate on the First Year Leadership Showcase, an event that will be held virtually Sunday at 7 p.m. The showcase is meant to encourage budding leaders of the freshman class to apply for positions within student government.

Student body vice president and senior Sarah Galbenski then took the floor and led newly elected first year Daniel Schermerhorn in his oath of office. Schermerhorn is filling the vacant senate seat of Baumer Hall that was last held by senior Thomas McCoy.

Next, seniors Michael Dugan, Dillion Hall senator, and Ricardo Pozas Garza, Club Coordination Council president, introduced Resolution SS2021-13 to the floor. The resolution called on the University to regularly publish COVID-19 modeling. The text of the document recognizes that University President Fr. John Jenkins has explicitly mentioned the University’s risk analysis in his July 29 message to campus and states that students have a right to know what the quantified risk of being on campus is.

(Editor’s Note: Dugan is a former news writer and systems administrator at The Observer.)

“There’re two, one of which is transparency, one of which is substantially that I think we all deserve to know the risks associated with whatever the University’s plan is,” Dugan said. “If the University is saying internally, [that they] believe that this course of action will result in x hospitalizations [and] y student cases, I think students have a right to know that.”

Following the resolution’s proposal, sophomore Keough Hall senator Benjamin Erhardt put forth an amendment that calls on the University to provide additional statistics to the COVID-19 HERE Dashboard. Several senators supported this amendment and advocated for specific statistics they believed should be published. The final list of proposed statistics to be included on the dashboard included: active and recovered case counts, current number of students quarantined or isolated, number of occupied quarantine and isolation units, dorm-by-dorm case distributions and surveillance testing statistics.

Erhardt said the amendment was meant to support the purpose of the original resolution by calling for more transparency from the University regarding where it stands right now in addition to where the University thinks it will go from here. Dugan, with the support of his cosponsor Garza, agreed to add this amendment to the final text of the resolution.

Through the debate, several comparisons were made to the public information provided by both the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill and Cornell University. UNC has regularly published many statistics on their dashboard including percentage capacity of quarantine and isolation units, inventory of protective equipment and testing positivity rates. Cornell University published an extensive report of its model’s predictions for infection and hospitalization percentages during the fall semester. 

Many senators made clear that they have heard of a swell of dissatisfaction with regards to the transparency of the University and hope this resolution will compel Notre Dame to address those concerns.

In what was a brief questioning and debate period, the resolution passed with a large majority. Thus the student senate has formally called upon the University to regularly publish internal predictive modeling for the spread of COVID-19 as well as add additional statistics to the HERE dashboard.

This is a non-binding resolution and will only be presented as the recommendation of the student body.

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