Barbara Bichelmeyer on a Senate Zoom call

Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer answered student questions over Zoom at a Student Senate meeting Wednesday night.

University of Kansas Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer shared with student government representatives Wednesday night that the institution wouldn't close based off one specific factor, but instead, consider multiple circumstances before it would close. 

It was the first appearance Bichelmeyer made at a Student Senate meeting this academic year. She took questions from student senators and provided an overview of actions KU took over the summer to prepare for students returning to campus this fall. She said she could not give a specific number of cases or a point at which KU would move online following a question from law school senator Trey Duran.

“We’re all faced with risks and we all have to determine what [we are] able to do moving forward,” Bichelmeyer said.

Bichelmeyer referenced the Pandemic Medical Advisory Team, which is monitoring the COVID-19 on campus, as an important part of decision-making going forward. She also said numbers are still relatively low, and she’s praying they stay that way.

Chancellor Douglas Girod also previously released the guidelines administrators would consider through the fall semester when making decisions on the institution's operations in late August.

KU confirmed 546 positive tests out of over roughly 22,000 tests on-campus as of Wednesday. The overall positivity rate is now at 2.42%. Among the 10,000 tests administered in the last week, the positivity rate was a little over 6%. 

Duran said he understands the University was in a “basically impossible” decision — risking the financial stability of the school and local economy or risk KU community members’ lives, he said.

“As the chancellor reported earlier tonight, at least 528 students, nearly 3% of the entire student body, including at least a few students currently on this Zoom call, have been infected within the first two weeks of the semester,” Duran said. “I have one question, provost: how high will KU allow that number to go?"

Another senator questioned how KU planned to enforce the use of the CVKey app, as many students have reported not using it or seeing peers fail to use it when entering buildings. Bichelmeyer said each building needed to enforce it for itself, and options such as moving CVKey scanners to the outside of buildings are being considered.

In response to a question about continued testing, Bichelmeyer said KU plans to continue doing random testing beginning next week. This would include random community member sample testing, target testing of specific demographics, and testing anyone with symptoms of the coronavirus. 

Bichelmeyer said throughout the summer that administrators focused on the mantra to “control the controllables.” She said their goal was to “meet everyone where they are.” From this, she said around 600 students requested 2,000 unique adaptations across 900 courses. Many of those students requested to move their coursework entirely online.

Currently, 34% of classes are in-person, 32% entirely online and the rest hybrid. However, around 48% of credit hours students are enrolled in across the campus are being taken online, and only 15% of those credit hours are entirely in-person, Bichelmeyer said.

Bichelmeyer said KU will release its modeling on possible COVID-19 impacts next week.

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences senator Ximena Ibarra questioned Bichelmeyer on KU’s response to the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Ibarra asked whether administrators would stand with petitioners looking to abolish the KU Public Safety Office and how they planned to address the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, which Ibarra said some Black alumni find problematic.

“The University has yet to explicitly say ‘Black Lives Matter.’ Rather, in a statement on June 2, the administration said that you stand with students of color,” Ibarra said. “Meanwhile, 443 people have signed on to a petition to abolish the police force within KU PSO.”

Bichelmeyer said she and the chancellor walked in solidarity with members of Kansas Athletics in their march in support of Black Lives Matter last Friday.

She also said abolishing KU PSO was not a possibility due to Kansas state statutes. Bichelmeyer said concerns brought up by students about KU PSO will be addressed through a task force. The task force’s first meeting is Thursday, but is only open to members of the task force. 

“I in no way ever want to imply that we’re doing it right at KU and we’ve done it right at KU. We have a long way to go and part of that is unique to KU, part of that is being an institution in higher education,” Bichelmeyer said.

She said that she is unsure on the status of the scholarship fund, but believes it will only hold that name for one year, and it will be changed in the future.

Senate will meet again Sept. 9 for its second cycle of committee meetings.