As colleges and universities attempt to resume in-person learning this fall, they are adopting policies that should be disturbing to anyone who values privacy or individual liberty. Schools have been cracking down on students who gather in groups, with Syracuse University bashing students as “selfish” for attending a party, Ohio State University suspending 228 students for partying, the University of Alabama issuing 639 sanctions, and Northeastern University expelling 11 students and refusing to return their tuition, to give just a few examples.
More disturbingly, many colleges are requiring students and employees to undergo Covid-19 testing as a condition of being on campus. Colby College in Maine, for example, requires students and employees to be tested three times a week, which will eventually go down to twice a week, according to the Washington Post. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign requires twice a week testing, and Miami University of Ohio also requires tests for students living on campus. At Harvard, students who live on campus must be tested three times per week, employees who have a high degree of contact with students must be tested twice per week, and students who live off campus as well as any employee who works on campus more then 4 hours per week must be tested once per week. The good news is that, according to Harvard’s coronavirus information page, most of the testing will be self-administered, which I believe consists of swabbing the inside of one’s nostrils, but not in the painful and invasive way that is typical when medical professionals administer the test. Regardless of how the testing is conducted, requiring a medical procedure as a condition of employment or attending school is wrong. People have the right to make their own medical decisions, and no one should be required to undergo a test to prove that they are free of a virus.
College students’ privacy rights are also under assault. Harvard’s data collection policies, for example, state that the university will track people’s movements for contact tracing purposes by logging their card swipes and their wifi locations. Worse, Albion College in Michigan is not only requiring students to undergo testing but also requiring them to download an app that Cheryl Chumley of the Washington Times correctly called “a surveillance nightmare.” This app tracks students’ locations in real time and automatically sends an alert to school administrators if they violate safety precautions. One forbidden activity is leaving campus without permission; any contact with the outside world is considered unacceptably risky. In Chumley’s words, these requirements amount to “tracking students, monitoring students’ behaviors, and punishing students, long-distance, without regard for due process or, more figuratively speaking, trial by jury.”
Some people might argue that these testing and tracing requirements do not violate anyone’s rights because no one has to attend or work at any particular institution. If you don’t want to get tested or have your location tracked, just don’t go to one of these schools, the argument goes. The problem with this argument is that if schools and employers are allowed to institute these types of requirements, there is nothing stopping all schools and employers from instituting them. And if all schools and employers require that people give up their privacy and medical freedom in order to take classes or work there, then for all practical purposes, people have no choice but to give up their privacy and medical freedom. In other words, if declining testing or contact tracing means giving up one’s job or one’s chance to attend a prestigious college, that is not true freedom. Thankfully, there are currently still numerous companies and schools that do not require virus testing as a condition of employment (Texas A&M and the University of Florida are two examples), but those that do are setting a disturbing precedent. The more institutions that institute these requirements, the less realistic it becomes to tell people that if they don’t want to be tested or tracked, they can simply choose not to go there. No one should have to choose between their education or job, and their rights to privacy and bodily integrity. Institutions should be prohibited from requiring virus testing or location tracking of their students and employees.