WASHINGTON, October 20, 2014 – A Maine teacher who visited Dallas for a conference was told to stay home for 21 days. School district administrators explained on their website, “the district and the staff member understand the parents’ concerns. Therefore, after several discussions with the staff member, out of an abundance of caution, this staff member has been placed on a paid leave of absence for up to 21 days.”
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Michel du Cille was disinvited from a speaking engagement at the Syracuse University school of journalism. He had been back from West Africa for 21 days by the time he was supposed to address the students, but some students expressed concern. Rather than take the opportunity to better educate the young minds in her charge, Dean Lorraine Branham demonstrated what passes for courage in academia.
Branham wrote in a column, “It was not a decision that we made lightly and we certainly understood that in doing so we opened ourselves to criticism about stoking fears among the public and spreading ignorance about the disease and how it is spread. This is not what you want to do as the dean of a premiere journalism school. But concern for our students, faculty and staff outweighs any concern I have about how this decision will be viewed by others.”
She went on, “Everyone agrees that there was probably a very small risk to our students. Still, our health experts suggested an ‘abundance of caution’ and we decided to take that advice. I was unwilling to take ANY risk where our students are concerned.”
The unwillingness to take ANY risk appears to be what life, college and journalism at Syracuse are all about. James Foley and Steven Sotloff – American journalists killed by ISIS – and the journalists who have traveled to West Africa would be impressed by Dean Branham’s decision to put hysteria over science to protect her students, who will undoubtedly make their careers covering White House garden parties.
An abundance of caution caused parents in Mississippi to pull their kids from school because the principal had traveled to Africa for a funeral – in a country 3,000 miles from the Ebola outbreak. An abundance of caution has led travelers to avoid connections at DFW airport. An abundance of caution led the flight crew on an American Airlines flight from DFW to Chicago to lock a sick passenger in a lavatory.
An abundance of caution led neighbors to contemplate burning down the home of a missionary who returned from West Africa to Arizona, employers to fire the sister of the chef at the restaurant visited by the quarantine-breaking Dr. Nancy Snyderman of NBC, and residents of Louisville, Kentucky to sequester themselves in their homes after an infected nurse flew through the Cleveland airport, a mere 300 miles away.
“An abundance of caution” is becoming the watchword for people who would rather duct-tape their doors shut than use their brains for more than head stuffing.
Let us be clear about something: Life is full of risk. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year in car accidents. Thousands more die after slipping in their showers, after eating bad food, and from gardening accidents. In 2009, 169 people landed in the ER from jump rope accidents.
People unwilling, like Dean Branham, to take ANY risk with their children will never take them on vacation. They will never ride a roller coaster, never visit Disney World, never eat at a restaurant, never go to the beach. They will never let them swim in warm water for fear of brain-devouring amoebas. They will never let them outside during mosquito season for fear of West Nile virus, Dengue fever and malaria. For fear of Hanta virus, plague and gravity, they will never visit the Grand Canyon.
Ebola is a terrifying disease. It’s a good reason not to visit medical centers in Liberia without proper protective gear. It’s a good reason to keep the family visited by Thomas Duncan in quarantine for 21 days. It’s a good reason to monitor the people who flew with the Dallas nurse who was infected with Ebola.
It is not a good reason to abandon reason. It is not a good reason to abandon life.