OPINION: Student workers should be offered paid time off


As institutions make tough choices amid Covid-19 disruptions, individuals make even tougher ones.

As hard as it can be, social distancing is absolutely vital. All who can practice it should.

This is the most reliable method to prevent the spread of the virus, which trends in a curve, meaning that the infection peaks drastically before dissipating.

Public health specialist Dr. Asaf Bitton wrote for Ariadne Labs that there are roughly 45,000 staffed ICU beds in the United States, which can be increased to 95,000 in a crisis situation. According to moderate projections, if the current rate of infection continues, the United States healthcare system will be overwhelmed by mid to late April.

If these projections come to fruition, there will be millions of infected Americans with severe enough symptoms to warrant hospitalization but no access to a hospital.

It is basic civic responsibility to practice social distancing — especially from people who are immunocompromised.

I commend Wichita State for taking prudent steps towards social distancing by converting classes to online and banning gatherings of more than 150 people on campus.

But what about employees?

As of now, university staff, including student employees, are still able to work.

This is partially a necessity, as many support staff will be needed to assist with the shift to online classes and the campus is still technically open.

It also takes into consideration the financial hardship that closing all offices and departments would have on staff — especially part-time staff without paid time off or other benefits.

Nevertheless, the continued presence of employees mitigates the benefits of WSU’s new online-approach. If hundreds of staff are still coming to campus and interacting, then the campus is still a potential hotbed of contagion.

We need another option. Employees, especially part-time student workers, need to be offered paid time off and given the same option and encouragement to leave campus that students and faculty have received.

This responsibility does not lie entirely with the university. This pandemic requires policy solutions at the federal, state, and local level.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) recently announced a legislative package for education in response to widespread disruptions caused by the Covid-19 outbreak. Co-sponsoring the package are Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

Among other provisions for K-12 and higher education is a proposed $1.2 billion allotment for emergency financial aid for students to provide basic necessities caused by Covid-19 disruptions, such as food, housing, health care, and childcare. The money would be given to institutions of higher education, which would in turn distribute grants to students.

This is a practical and vital legislative measure that warrants total bipartisan support from the House, the Senate, and the president.

As evidenced by The Sunflower report on WSU’s inability to ensure that all students have access to a reliable internet connection as classes switch online, universities do not have the resources to alleviate the full range of Covid-19 disruptions to their students. It is the job of our government to advocate for and protect its vulnerable constituents.