I’m not quite done with grading — genetics is complete! — but yeah, I already have to think about Fall semester? Yikes. I’m expecting a resurgence of the coronavirus this summer that will be worse than what we had in the spring, because we a) don’t have adequate testing, b) don’t have a vaccine, and c) have a country infested with idjits who want to get a haircut no matter how many other people’s lives it puts at risk. Meanwhile, the universities are dithering about what to do. I have no idea what I’m expected to do come September, although we’re kind of mumbling about contingency plans.
This is a fairly clear-eyed view of the immediate future.
Higher education as we know it is approaching economic collapse. I appreciate the frantic gestures college presidents are making to prevent their own campuses from failing. Many intend to open their campuses for the fall term and avoid economic ruin. It is the wrong call.
Even the most optimistic of epidemiologists have two opinions about the remaining months of 2020: mass gatherings should be prohibited, and people over 55 and/or with pre-existing conditions should continue to stay indoors. We also know that individuals under 25 are least likely to become sick with the coronavirus and are most likely to flout requests to stay indoors, wear masks and avoid public places such as beaches and parks.
College presidents are unsure about what to do with their campuses in the fall, and uncertainty breeds anxiety. No one has a crystal ball, but with what we know, what should happen on the nation’s campuses in the fall is increasingly clear. The option of students returning to campus in the fall is not viable, regardless of the economic implications.
The author has some suggestions about what to do if we are open: cancel all those big stadium football games, make special provisions for faculty and students over 55 (we have to teach online, while the younger faculty teach in classes? I think he has an elevated opinion of the safety of young adults), constant testing (we don’t have a reliable, affordable test), and maintain social distancing in the classroom. OK, so I looked at my list of registered students for the Fall to see if that is feasible. Enrollments are down everywhere, right?
I’ll be teaching cell biology, which typically has about 50 students. It’s down a lot right now, with 35 students registered, although it will probably go up a little bit more over the summer. I’ve been assigned a huge lecture hall, so social distancing in class will be easy — I can put them in every 3rd or 4th seat, every other row, and have room left over. Lecture will be easy.
The problem will be labs. I have 3 lab sections for those 35 students, and we generally have students work in groups. That’s not going to work. Making it work would require major restructuring — break up the labs into more independent study sections, so we can separate them more? Even there, any infected students are going to spray fomites all over the microscopes and spectrophotometers. Need I point out, though, this is where the students who will one day be the front line in dealing with future pandemics will get their start?
I imagine our administration is freaking out.
Greater than 5 percent of the more than 4,000 U.S. colleges and universities are likely to close because of falling enrollment, according to Robert Zemsky. Many observers now predict that enrollments will shrink by 15 percent. The pandemic and the Trump administration’s xenophobia alone will shrink foreign student enrollment, especially from China and India, by 25 percent, the American Council on Education has estimated. Meanwhile, some states like New Jersey are already clawing back money from campuses that has been allocated for this fiscal year; next year’s budgets will be worse than the recession in every state. Philanthropic giving will take a nose dive. Summer and auxiliary enterprises will yield next to no additional revenue.
College presidents have a right to be terrified. But opening campuses in the fall is the wrong move if the primary motivation is to avoid bankruptcy. Public health comes first.
Right. Public health must come first. The answer ought to be a massive public investment in educational and medical infrastructure to keep us all limping along until this disease is overcome. Will we get it? No. It’s hard not to feel a sense of impending doom when we witness the government overseeing this disaster.
So, right now I focus on finishing this last semester, which already ended in a colossal pratfall. Once that’s done, maybe I can think about how to manage the next one.
Hey, rigorous training in how to clean and sterilize a workspace would be an appropriate first lab in cell biology, right?