University Of South Carolina Blasted For Coronavirus Miscommunication, Class Cancellations

Faculty, students, staff and state lawmakers pile on “flagship” institution …

The leadership of the University of South Carolina is facing harsh criticism from faculty, staff, students and state lawmakers after botching a major announcement related to it handling of the 2019-2020 coronavirus (known officially as 2019-nCoV).

News of the university’s planned cancellation of all classes for the week after spring break – March 16 through March 22, 2020 – was announced officially by the school shortly after 11:00 a.m. EDT on Wednesday morning (March 11, 2020).

(Students have been on spring break since Friday, March 6).

Classes are now scheduled to restart on March 23 – however the school said it “will suspend all face-to-face instruction in lectures, discussion sections, seminars and other similar classroom settings and move to virtual instruction” until April 3.

“We are taking a measured response to mitigate risk,” school president Robert Caslen said.

Is this an overreaction? Or a proper exercise of caution?

It is probably too early to tell, but the school is getting assailed for its mishandling of the announcement.

The problem? The school’s coronavirus plans were leaked – without official confirmation – to The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier shortly before 8:00 p.m. EDT on Tuesday evening (March 10, 2020).

“Administrators did not share the decision with faculty leadership,” Post and Courier reporter Andy Shain tweeted.

Ouch …

“So is (the school) going to actually tell us spring break is extended or do we just accept a newspaper’s Twitter account now?” political science professor Edward Lawson tweeted.

Meanwhile, English professor Ed Madden wondered “when will the ‘official-page-we-are-supposed-to-check-regularly’ be updated?”

Madden went on to say that the university’s official coronavirus response page “still says ‘Classes will resume on Monday, March 16 as scheduled.'”

“Ridiculous this got leaked,” one student lamented, imploring Caslen to “please get us an official announcement of what is going on.”

(Click to view)

(Via: University of South Carolina)

Others were harsher on Caslen (above), whose contentious hiring and disastrous start to his new job have put him behind the eight ball when it comes to dealing with multiple core constituencies of the university.

“We knew (Caslen) wasn’t qualified academically, but wouldn’t you think this is the kind of situation even an Army guy could handle?” one Twitter critic noted. “How can you f*ck up an announcement this badly? Your president sent a personal email to a student last night confirming the news.”

South Carolina science professor Heather Brandt was also miffed by the atrocious notification process.

“So… what you’re saying here is that we a) find out on Twitter that (university) classes are cancelled … and b) faculty weren’t involved in the decision?” she tweeted.

Yes … that is exactly what happened.

State lawmakers were also critical of Caslen’s decision, contrasting South Carolina’s panicked flub with the professionalism displayed by Clemson University in response to the virus.

S.C. Senate majority leader Shane Massey took to the well of the Senate on Wednesday afternoon to draw this very distinction.

“We have to deal with rumors and miscommunication” Massey said, specifically citing a rumor that Clemson was going to shut down yesterday. “Clemson got ahead of the rumor and deployed their communications team and let everyone know that wasn’t the case.”

Massey – who got his undergraduate degree from Clemson and his law degree from South Carolina – told his colleagues the latter institution’s response to the virus was not helpful.

“There is no reason for people to think this is a major catastrophe,” Massey said.

(Click to view)

(Via: Travis Bell Photography)

Meanwhile, state senator Sandy Senn (above) also had strong words for South Carolina, saying that governor Henry McMaster – who pushed Caslen’s hiring – was telling everyone to “stay calm, wash our hands and use common sense” but “now all of a sudden (South Carolina) has decided to extend spring break.”

“I don’t even know how that helps,” Senn said.

We are inclined to agree … but again, it is probably still too early to tell whether South Carolina has overreacted or taken an appropriate safeguard.

Accordingly, this news outlet is not going to join the pile-on related to Caslen, except to say that an administration paying big bucks for a professional communications consultant probably should have figured out to handle the rollout of such an announcement.

We wonder … was he otherwise occupied at the time?




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