Ayman Mohyeldin interviewed Father John Jennings about the university's announcement that they'll reopen for the fall semester. Jennings could not answer one question the host asked.
May 21, 2020

Sheesh, for a university president, Father John Jennings did not do a lot of homework before his interview with Ayman Mohyeldin of MSNBC.

Father Jennings was being interviewed about the University of Notre Dame's decision to open up for fall semester classes, and he struggled and/or punted on every single question Mohyeldin asked him about that choice. After he'd summarized the range of decisions colleges and universities have announced around the nation, he came to Notre Dame, which has announced a condensed fall semester with no breaks, running from mid-August through just before Thanksgiving. Mohyeldin noted their plans to have "comprehensive testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, even social distancing and mask requirements," and asked how those will be enforced, particularly outside of class.

Jennings' answer was basically, "Lemme tell ya. We just made the announcement, and we have 3 months to come up with something, but we'll work it out. It'll be great." The interviewer was not exactly satisfied.

MOHYELDIN: Why, if I may, then, just push back on that for a second, why not actually. get those details in place before you make an announcement to find out if in fact you do have the capacity, you do have the infrastructure for contact tracing, you have the infrastructure with personnel to make sure that faculty are safe as well? Why not work those details out before you get students to commit to coming back to the campus?

JENNINGS: We're confident we have the infrastructure. We're confident we have the spacing. We're confident we can get what we need. But moving a university is like moving a battleship. It's a complex organization. There are a lot of people involved. They have to work together. We're going to do that in the next few months. And so we had to set a target. We had to set a goal, which we did, and which we will be working on in the next few months. I'm confident we'll be ready when students come back.

Nope. Not good enough. Not, in fact, an answer at all. Mohyeldin knew it, and pressed him again, this time making an even. stronger argument for waiting until the spring semester for opening.

MOHYELDIN: Why not start from the most baseline safe approach of saying, let's stick to the online classes for at least one more semester, given that there will be no fall break, your students are not going to be able to go home for the weekend, or I don't know if you're going to offer them exemption to go home for the weekends, but why not start with a very baseline safety measurement of saying let's just make sure everyone continues with online classes for another semester and in the spring of 2021, we can bring them back when we have a better understanding, maybe even a vaccine?

JENNINGS: Great question. Look, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. At Notre Dame, the residential life of our students, the students interacting with one another involved in student organizations, involved in a myriad of relationships they have with one another, as well as with faculty is critical to the education we offer...(blah blah blah)...We want to educate these students in the best way and we think part of that is getting them here on campus, helping them experience residential life and the fullness of Notre Dame education.

He wants them to experience "the fullness" of residential life, student organizations, and the relationships they have with one another. Pardon me, but has he ever seen what it is he is talking about? Let's get.back to that enforcement of social distancing question, shall we? Has this dude ever been to a dorm?

Mohyeldin asks about plans for an eventual (inevitable, let's be real) outbreak, and Jennings produces an answer so uninformed you'd think he was employed by the Trump administration.

MOHYELDIN: God forbid, if there is an outbreak, is there a plan? Have you thought about how that plan would look like if there's unfortunately an outbreak of COVID-19 among your students? Would you consider sending students back home? Would you be willing to shut down the university on a moment's notice?

JENNINGS: Look, what we have are facilities for isolation, for quarantining. Students -- some students may get COVID. That may happen. But we have the facilities to treat them. As you well know, for young people, this is not a highly dangerous disease. If you're young, if you're healthy, if you get sick, sometimes you don't even show symptoms. But you can get back. ...(blah blah blah)...The answer to your question is, yes, we have response to whatever eventualities occur. We're pretty confident that we can get these students back, that it will be healthy and safe place and we can complete the semester.


But wait! There's MORE! Jennings goes even further to put the finest of points on the exclamation mark ending the sentence, "Money is more important to us than the lives of your children and families!" Mohyeldin asked him if packing the stadium with tens of thousands of people to watch Notre Dame play football was off the table, at least, and guess what? IT ISN'T! IT ISN'T OFF THE TABLE, PEOPLE! What is Jennings calling that? It's a "challenge!"

Finally, Mohyeldin just straight up asked about the money. "If, in fact, the semester does not go as planned, is there any kind of tuition relief for those students who are not going to be coming back to campus?"

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Silly Ayman.

Jennings said, "We'll see. I just don't know the answer to that question because it's hypothetical."

"Hypothetical" is not going to calm parents worried about their students getting sick, pal.

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