University College Cork students, who breach Covid-19 regulations including guidelines on the numbers who can attend house parties and other social gatherings could face expulsion, UCC interim president Prof John O'Halloran has warned.
In the letter emailed to more than 22,000 students on Saturday evening, Prof O’Halloran pointed out that the Government had requested all Irish universities to introduce enhanced public health protection measures to help curb the spread of Covid-19.
The Government has already ordered that all teaching at universities would be carried out online for the next fortnight and Prof O’Halloran acknowledged going online would deprive many students of the campus experience which is an important part of university life.
“The reality is that our society is grappling with a deadly pandemic. How we all act in the next days and weeks will have a direct impact on those we love and those most vulnerable in our communities,” he said as students prepare to return to UCC on Monday.
“UCC has a proud tradition as a university of the community and now, more than ever, we need to live up to our values of good citizenship and respect for those more vulnerable. As students of UCC, you have a vital role to play in our community’s response to this disease.”
Prof O’Halloran pointed out that to suppress the spread of Covid-19, the Government has limited the number of visitors to households which, in the case of Cork, currently at Level 2 restrictions, is just six visitors from three households.
“We all have a responsibility to comply with those measures. We fully understand that you have been looking forward to returning to campus, but over the next few weeks it is absolutely essential that you limit your social contacts,” he said.
Prof O'Halloran said he understood that many students have been looking forward to the Virtual Freshers Week organised by the Student Union and although many of these events are online, there is deep concern is that they will lead to gatherings in households.
And he said it was a measure of the seriousness of the threat posed by Covid-19 that UCC was committed to treating breaches of Government guidelines in relation to Covid-19 very seriously before he warned that the university would, if necessary, resort to expulsions.
“In particular, students found to be organising, hosting or attending gatherings which are in breach of guidelines will be subject to sanction up to and including expulsion from the University where warranted. Please do not take actions now that could impact your future.”
Contacted by The Irish Times, a spokesman for UCC confirmed that the warning regarding breaching guidelines applies not just to university owned accommodation but rather to any student behaviour on or off campus that breaches the guidelines.
“In the event a student breaches the standards of conduct it is open to the University through its Disciplinary processes to sanction a student. The Disciplinary process is tiered and the sanction is dependent on the degree of misconduct.
“Every case is considered on its merits and the principal of natural justice applies. The standards apply whether the student is on or off campus, and whether engaged in a placement or study. Expulsion from the University is the most serious sanction.”
The UCC move follows a similar move at the University of Limerick which last week responded to reports of students organising large-scale parties next week by warning that those who breach Covid guidelines may face fines, suspensions or even expulsion.
UL told the Irish Examiner that “there is no set sanction” for students who breach the code of conduct, but that “penalties allowed within the code of conduct include monetary, academic, suspension, and expulsion.”
“Students at UL are subject to a code of conduct. Action can be taken against students through the code of conduct who, by breaching public health guidelines, may be considered to have engaged in conduct that is harmful to others,” the college said.