Reopening colleges have one major request for lawmakers

Universities claimed that frivolous lawsuits will be an impediment to re-opening their institutions.

Fourteen universities joined a call with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss legal protections from potential COVID-19 lawsuits.

Vice President Mike Pence met with higher education leaders to discuss economic recovery and potential protocols to bring students back in the fall. Included in the discussion were calls for legal protections for universities that choose to have students return in the fall. 

If any individual contracts COVID-19 while on campus, the university may be subject to lawsuits without proper legal protection.

[RELATED: ASU takes pages from Trump playbook on campus re-opening]

There were 14 universities on the call, listed below, all of which have begun preparations to re-open their institutions with guidance from the CDC and state and local regulations. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Dr. Deborah Birx were also on the call. 

Purdue University

University of Texas-El Paso

Hillsdale College

Marquette University

University of Virginia

University of Alabama System

University of Florida

University of Notre Dame

Carnegie Mellon University

Ohio State University

Stanford University

Wake Forest University

Arizona State University

Hampton University

Arizona State University President Michael Crow has asked that the CDC issue clear guidelines on resuming in-person instruction and regular COVID-19 testing protocols, according to the State Press. Crow also stressed the importance of supporting international students.

“It’s critical that higher ed isn’t inundated with frivolous litigation. The protections President Crow is calling for are common-sense and protect both students and the administration — it’s wholly complementary,” Joseph Pitts, an ASU student studying Business Law, told Campus Reform.

“They provide an invaluable service to Arizonans (and America, and the world) and to refuse to act on these calls for legal protections would be to jeopardize millions of taxpayer [and] student dollars on lawsuits that go nowhere and do nothing but stir up undue drama,” Pitts added.

Ohio State University President Michael Drake was also on the call. 

OSU College Republicans chairman David Kalk told Campus Reform, “Extra precautions also need to be taken to protect students enrolled for the fall: this includes distance learning options, utilizing bigger classroom sizes, and increased disinfecting of all university facilities.”

“In short, OSU should be able to request federal protections, but those protections should also come with protections for students so that OSU stays committed to delivering the safest learning environment possible this fall,” Kalk added.

[RELATED: College during coronavirus: Fall reopenings a mixed bag for campuses]

According to Inside Higher Ed, the University of Texas, El Paso President Heather Wilson noted that most education leaders are “wanting to hear what the federal government could do to be helpful”.  

However, this is one of many conversations taking place in the United States regarding legal immunity for both educational institutions and corporate entities.

In New Jersey, education leaders and administrators have asked the state legislature to grant their institution legal immunity from students who contract COVID-19 while on campus. They claim that “the threat of costly lawsuits remains an impediment to colleges reopening.”

In the United States Senate, a hearing on corporate liability during the COVID-19 pandemic took place to discuss legal immunity for corporations and small businesses seeking to reopen to avoid burdensome lawsuits.

While many universities and businesses are calling for legal immunity, there are also voices opposed to this prospect. 

Georgetown Law Professor David Vladeck testified that, “...[legal] immunity sends the message that precautions to control the spread of the virus is not a priority.” Vladeck added, “even worse, immunity signals to workers and consumers that they go back to work, or to the grocery store, at their peril.”

Follow the author on Twitter @claynrobinson