Editorial: President Kaler’s false positivity is not needed at CWRU

Editorial Board

On Jan. 24, Case Western Reserve University President Eric Kaler announced that he and his wife tested positive for COVID-19, and “fortunately” they only have mild symptoms. But according to Kaler, their “situation further illustrates the value of science.” Out of all the responses he could have sent to the CWRU community, Kaler used his positive test result as a measure of (false) encouragement, demonstrating how little the university thinks we should value our own health and safety. 

There is already anxiety circulating around in-person classes and the Omicron variant, and instead of reassuring the community about the safety measures in place beyond the vaccine and booster requirement (which, while high, is not at 100% compliance), we are reassured that it’s fine because we continue to excel in research and in our education. 

Kaler’s email illustrates this unhealthy mindset within the CWRU community. Even if we are sick, we are expected to prevail. It should be very concerning that thousands continue to get infected with COVID-19 and that death and suffering surrounds us all. It should be concerning that not even our university president is safe from this virus, even if his symptoms are mild. We shouldn’t just ignore reality for the sake of returning to a status quo that no longer exists. To this administration, our education is more important than our health, so we must continue to learn and work, even if it is clear that our bodies just need rest. Beyond that, students are burned out, and our mental health is even less considered a reason to take a break than COVID-19. While most of us recognize that we are exhausted both mentally and physically, we can’t afford to pause. 

CWRU’s transition to in-person learning after two weeks has been disorderly and, frankly, unsafe. Classes at the introductory level continue to have packed lecture halls, with students unable to practice any degree of social distancing. Additionally, many professors have not offered the option of watching lectures remotely without grade penalties—so students feel increasingly pressured to attend class. This further places a strain on students’ mental health, and with most professors unwilling to accept mental health days as a valid reason to miss class, it is almost impossible to break out of this toxic cycle. 

Clearly, it is difficult to receive genuine help and encouragement as students at CWRU, despite the false assurance that we have resources at our disposal to improve our student wellness. The abundance of negative experiences when students actually seek help—as detailed in past editorials—is not the hopeful encouragement the university thinks it is. Kaler’s email feeds into the toxic mindset that even if we are distressed, physically or mentally, our education takes priority over our basic needs.

We have seen time and time again—not just with this email—that CWRU doesn’t value its students. We are just vehicles for better publicity and innovation. Kaler even mentions that he is “especially proud that some of [the COVID-19 research] findings have come from our own Case Western Reserve faculty.” While, yes, research and education are important, it doesn’t mean that they should be prioritized at all times over our sanity. Yet, that is the culture that students are immersed within, and CWRU’s administration welcomes and encourages it.

If Kaler needed to use his positive result as an example, it should have been that our health is our number one priority, and we should take the time to nurse ourselves back to our full capacity. We don’t need to always look for the bright side in situations. We don’t always need reminders that everything will turn out okay. And we certainly don’t need false positivity when we don’t feel our best. 

So, President Kaler, the next time you send out an email stating that you tested positive for COVID-19, just know that your suffocating optimism is not helping us.