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Alleged Off-Campus Parties Put FGCU Fall Term in Jeopardy

Academic institutions across the country are grappling with how to keep campuses open while keeping students and faculty safe during the pandemic.

At Florida Gulf Coast University, reports of off-campus parties have already put the future of the fall semester in jeopardy.

At FGCU, faculty members like Lutgert College of Business professor Michael Zahaby are taking the responsibility of trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19 seriously.

“[The college] provides us with masks, wipes, sanitizers, everything," Zahaby said. “Standing at the door as people are coming in, I give them a squirt of sanitizer, I give them a wipe so they can wipe the chair, just to be sure you know? I don’t want anyone getting sick on my watch.”

Classes started Aug 24 and the university has already received reports of large parties taking place off campus. FGCU president Dr. Mike Martin said university staff learned about the gatherings from social media.

“Two fraternities, there may be more, we’re still kind of determining whether or not anybody else was at it, but two for sure had decided that their short term gratification was more important than the long term commitment to their fellow students in the neighborhood,” Martin said.

The fraternities have been placed on interim suspension pending an investigation.

“They've basically been disbanded for the time being and that will continue to be reviewed and adjudicated by our student conduct folks,” Martin said. “But for now, they are basically not operating as a fraternity.”

Martin said the alleged parties violate safety protocols outlined by the FGCU code of student conduct. The code applies to students both on and off campus.

In the meantime, Professor Zahaby is considering ways to keep his students safe amid the party allegations.

“Put a [Zoom] link out to the class and you are invited without any judgement to use the link and join the class and just accommodate everyone and just protect those that didn’t partake in this,” Zahaby said. “That was my main concern, the others.”

President Martin said the alleged parties put the health of the entire FGCU community at risk.

“If we get to the point where we have to disperse 15,000 students back off campus and out of this community for the sake of everyone’s health and well-being, we’ll make that decision,” Martin said. “Right now, I still have some optimism that the majority of the students really do understand the challenges they face.”

Martin said he hopes the investigation into the party allegations will be completed by the end of the week.

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Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.