March 1, 2021 (updated 8:50 a.m. Pacific)
CHAMPAIGN, ILLINOIS — COVID-19 overreach and fearmongering are becoming more bizarre by the day. The Champaign, Illinois incident is yet another strange new world example.
Yidong “Ivor” Chen is a fourth-year PhD student at the University of Illinois. The international student lives off-campus with his mother. All of his classes are online, as is his job. He never steps foot on campus and only leaves his apartment for the necessities. Chen did not test at all during the Fall 2020 semester because of his online status and the verbiage of the testing rules. The university utilizes saliva tests, not the invasive swabs.
Said rules, however, are conflicting and confusing. For instance, the FAQ section asks if a student is fully online and lives off campus, must they participate in on-campus testing? The answer reads as follows:
Yes. All students living on-campus or residing in Champaign, Urbana or Savoy will need to participate in on-campus testing, even if they are taking a fully online schedule.
Students enrolled in fully online programs, regardless of location, are excused from testing. Example of fully online programs include the iMBA or the Online Master of Computer Science degree.
Chen read this as an exemption from testing. But he was wrong.
Expulsions and potential deportation
Chen received a Notice of Disciplinary Charge on December 21, 2020. It said that he was in non-compliance of testing requirements for not participating during the fall semester. The university granted him a testing exemption for the spring semester.
Chen attended a disciplinary hearing on January 29 with a representative of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). Despite the spring exemption and the wording of the testing rules, Chen was dismissed from the school effectively immediately. But the punishments got more bizarre from there. He could apply for readmission after one year if he fulfilled several requirements, including:
- Must write two, 1,000-word reflective essays.
- Required to carry a trespass notification that prohibits him from setting foot on University property, subject to enforcement by the University Police Department.
- 80 hours of community service.
- Evidence of successful academic or work history during his 1 year dismissal.
Chen immediately appealed the decision, but it was denied. He faced deportation since his education visa requires him to be enrolled in school.
Backlash and reinstatement
The GEO created an online petition that, as of today, has over 39,000 signatures. It demanded that Chen is reinstated to the school. Several professors and the aforementioned organization wrote letters on his behalf, demanding reinstatement.
The university’s Senate Committee for Student discipline reconvened on February 15 to discuss Chen’s case. Under pressure, they changed his status from expelled to “dismissal held in abeyance” until graduation. That means he was reinstated effectively immediately. But Chen still must write two, 1,000-word reflective essays and perform 25 hours of community service.
Chen told Illinois Newsroom that he is not 100% satisfied with the outcome, but it’s better than nothing. He said he never goes to parties or bars, which further shines light on the absurd nature of his punishment. The school has dismissed at least 27 students as a result of testing non-compliance, according to university data.
College in the age of COVID
Students across the country face unreasonable, intrusive testing requirements, lockdowns and other mandates related to COVID-19. But University of Illinois rules are potentially due process violations, particularly when it subjects off-campus, online students to the same testing requirements as traditional students.
COVID Legal USA continues researching and providing information about mandatory vaccines for employment, travel, etc. We’re also investigating several incidents across the country similar to the foregoing.
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