Allegheny College President Hilary Link is facing criticism after posting a picture of herself on Instagram at a public, off-campus event Saturday while on-campus students had to remain in a school-mandated COVID-19 quarantine over the weekend.
Both parents and students contacted The Meadville Tribune expressing outrage over Link's photo on Instagram with the caption, "presidenthlink Representing the (Gators) even while supporting the Bulldogs!"
Link had gone to a soccer game Saturday afternoon at Meadville Area Senior High School's Bender Field. The picture subsequently was taken down from Instagram.
"Posting the picture without the whole context was not my best choice," Link told the Tribune on Tuesday.
"I was watching my 14-year-old son in his first-ever varsity soccer game for the Meadville High School in a stadium very, very physically distanced from every other person except my husband — wearing masks," Link said. "Everybody was wearing masks. Outdoors. Absolutely following guidelines that we set out for our facility and staff who do not live on campus."
Allegheny College did lift its campus-wide quarantine at 9 a.m. Tuesday as only 0.1 percent of its student population is positive for COVID. Students who are not currently COVID positive nor under individual quarantine restrictions may travel off campus into the local community.
Starting next week, the college plans to test students, faculty and staff members in groups of 60 five days per week, Allegheny announced.
Both parents of Allegheny College students and students themselves complained that Link violated her own Gator Pledge regarding the pandemic — by failing to comply with non-essential travel restrictions and going off-campus unnecessarily.
On Thursday, Link and Dr. Gabrielle Morrow of Allegheny College Health Agency had sent an email to students, faculty and staff announcing the on-campus quarantine period had been extended until further notice. Though Allegheny had a low COVID-19 infection rate, the college was trying to contain a cluster of positive student COVID-19 cases that rose out of travel off campus, the email said.
The email, of which the Tribune obtained a copy, extended the on-campus quarantine period until further notice. It specifically said, “This means students may not leave campus for any reason — including, for example, trips to area businesses, jobs or any other off-campus locations.”
"There is simply no room for non-compliance, and our response throughout the semester has been and will continue to be quick and firm, with no room for leniency." the email said. "We urge families to remind your students to comply; if not, they risk jeopardizing the on-campus experience for every single Allegheny student and our faculty and staff."
A followup email sent to on-campus students Friday from April Thompson, Allegheny's dean of students, said, "It is critical that students take precautionary measures this weekend to mitigate any potential spread."
Because of the extended quarantine, parents and students expressed concerns about limited on-campus dining options due to expense and dietary needs.
And, they expressed concern about the difficulty and possible inability to obtain necessary medications from local pharmacies and even replenishment of consumable goods like toilet paper — all because of the quarantine extension.
Kimberly Cahill, parent of an Allegheny student, called Link's action ridiculous.
"The issue is going to a game is not essential, yet my young adult student is not allowed off campus for any reason," Cahill said in an email. "Not for groceries, not for allergy medicine, not for toilet paper."
"Who is to say her being out and about won’t bring the virus back to campus?" Cahill wrote.
One Allegheny student who asked not to be identified said faculty and administration have different rules for themselves.
"How did she think the students would react to this?" the student said of Link's Instagram post. "After we are told not to go to the grocery store for essentials, she is openly displaying her leisure activity. Then, she will come back to campus where we have been stuck. She acted disrespectfully to the students that need to go off campus for one reason or another."
Link said Tuesday that staff and employees have been compliant with Allegheny's rules about wearing masks and keeping physically distant whether on campus or not.
"We fully understand that students and parents are frustrated by the ongoing quarantine that we had," Link said. "They're also just frustrated by what's going on in the world."
Link said all schools are working to adapt to the changing COVID-19 situation.
"This is a learning process for all of us," she said.
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.