Some UNH Students Uneasy About 'Consent Agreement' Assuming Risks Around Coronavirus On Campus | New Hampshire Public Radio

Some UNH Students Uneasy About 'Consent Agreement' Assuming Risks Around Coronavirus On Campus

Jul 20, 2020

The wildcat statue on the campus of the University of New Hampshire, decorated with a pandemic-inspired accessory.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Update: This story was updated on Monday, July 20 with a statement from the University System of New Hampshire.  

The University of New Hampshire is asking students to sign an informed consent agreement before arriving on campus in the fall for classes, though some students say they want more information from the university before signing.

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The consent agreement includes a list of policies and protocols students will need to follow and steps they’ll need to take if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

By signing, students are saying they assume the risks associated with being at UNH, including the risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“I understand there are risks of exposure to the virus from symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers,” the agreement reads, in part. “I recognize that the risks of exposure to COVID-19 include sharing space with others and engaging in interpersonal communications. I assume the risks associated with being at the University of New Hampshire including the risk of exposure to COVID-19. I affirm my obligation to cooperate in making the campus reasonably safe, and consent to attending all university activities.”

The consent agreement also lays out several new policies for on-campus activity, such as requiring everyone to wear a face covering while in class or other common areas and requiring all students, faculty and staff to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result before arriving on campus for the fall semester. It also says all school community members "will be subject to periodic COVID-19 testing."

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Josh Marshall, a second year law student at UNH, said he wants more clarification from administrators about plans around student behavior related to the coronavirus, contact tracing, and legal review. He said he and others are concerned by the part of the consent agreement that says students assume the risks of being on campus.

“Meanwhile, students are asked in advance of this to submit to terms we don’t know yet,” Marshall said. “In practice, really, what does it mean for me to quote-unquote ‘assume the risk of coronavirus?’ ”

Students are required to sign the form by this Friday. They have the option to agree to the terms to be on campus or to disagree and take online classes instead.

Classes at UNH are set to start August 31.

Updated, July 20: A spokeswoman for the University System of New Hampshire provided the following statement Monday afternoon:

"Based on review by the CDC and other federal and state health experts, it is our belief that social distancing and other safe practices can significantly lower the risk of viral infection. The informed consent form that students who intend to return to campus are being asked to sign, acknowledges the expectations we have that individuals will engage in the social and hygiene practices we have identified as important on all of our campuses (Plymouth State University, University of New Hampshire, Keene State College and Granite State College). An informed consent is not the same as a waiver of liability.  It is a recognition that a student understands what is expected and that it is their individual responsibility to follow behavioral and safety practices that we hope will mitigate risks for students, faculty, and staff who return to our campuses. Our institutions have collaborated with students, local towns and communities, businesses, landlords, campus, local and state law enforcement officials, and with leaders in our government to coalesce our best efforts to protect each other and reduce the spread of COVID-19."