U of M dean forced to apologize for COVID skepticism

Zaheer told staff to "chill out and get over" the pandemic. She said "50,000 people die from the flu every year but no one talks about that."

Background: University of Minnesota/Facebook; Right: Sri Zaheer/ University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

The dean of the University of Minnesota’s business school was forced to apologize for her “egregious and problematic” remarks about COVID.

Sri Zaheer, dean of the Carlson School of Management (CSOM), was accused of flippantly dismissing staff concerns about the delta variant at a Sept. 15 meeting.

The Minnesota Daily, the U of M student newspaper, reported on an Oct. 13 letter from the CSOM committee to Zaheer that demanded an apology for her remarks.

According to the letter, Zaheer told staff to “chill out and get over” the pandemic. She said “50,000 people die from the flu every year but no one talks about that.”

CSOM staff also didn’t appreciate Zaheer’s comments on remote work. Although they returned to the office at the beginning of the fall semester, some expressed their desire to continue working from home due to the delta variant.

In response, Zaheer told them she knew they missed their “afternoon naps and watching ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ at noon,” adding that although a handful gave “200%” effort working from home, others did not.

On Oct. 18, Zaheer issued an apology via email, then followed it up with a verbal apology on Oct. 27, U of M spokesman Steve Henneberry told The Minnesota Daily.

“I failed to think about my words and the impact they would have, in my attempt to maintain a conversation,” she wrote in her email apology. “I trust the CSOM staff and their supervisors to appropriately identify when and where work can get done in a way that enhances both individual and unit productivity and meets the needs of our staff, faculty, students and all our other constituents.”

The University of Minnesota required all students to get vaccinated by early October. Later that month, the university announced that all faculty and staff would need to be vaccinated to comply with President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate. Despite universal vaccination, the school still enforces a mask mandate in all buildings on campus.