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EDITORIAL: Sandoval right to keep UNR open

Nevada has too many leaders who claim to care about education but continue to subject students to distance learning. University of Nevada, Reno students should be glad Brian Sandoval isn’t among them.

Last week, Mr. Sandoval, president of UNR and a former governor, welcomed back students to his campus. Normally, that isn’t a controversial event. Students go to universities to learn, and being on campus provides them with innumerable benefits. But these aren’t normal times and haven’t been for almost two years. Some special interests are still calling for remote learning.

“We call on the administration to move delivery of all classes online for at least the first two weeks of the semester to protect the health of all members of the UNR community, limit the strain on our overworked health care workers, and preserve hospital capacity for those who need it,” a letter from the Nevada Faculty Alliance read.

Mr. Sandoval declined, citing students’ desire to be on campus.

“That is the No. 1 thing that we heard from our students, that they want the in-person (learning), they want to be in class, they want to be person to person with the faculty,” he told a Northern Nevada TV station.

That’s undoubtedly the correct decision, especially when you consider UNR’s vaccination rates. Among employees, the vaccination rate is 98 percent. Among students, the rate is around 85 percent.

The past year has provided abundant evidence that the vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness and death. The omicron variant is also less dangerous than the delta variant. Those two factors have led even The New York Times to report, “COVID now appears to present less danger than a normal flu.”

Imagine if UNR professors had demanded virtual learning in 2019, citing concerns about the flu. They would have been laughed at — and rightfully so. After the disastrous pandemic experiment with remote classrooms, many scientists and public health professionals now support in-person learning.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sandoval’s common sense is in short supply in Clark County. UNLV’s Boyd Law School moved all of its classes to virtual learning for the first two weeks of this semester. Some classes will be online for the whole semester. More broadly, 40 percent of UNLV’s spring classes will be held remotely. School districts around the country, including here, have closed their doors for varying lengths of time.

This attitude needs to change. The coronavirus is here indefinitely, but the risk it poses to vaccinated individuals, particularly young adults in college, is minimal. Nevada’s students need to be in classrooms and on campuses. As Mr. Sandoval showed, it can be done.

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