What Does It Take For a College Campus to Re-Open In the Fall?
Many think of a college campus as a place to take college classes. But it is much more.
A college campus is a school. It is also a community, much like a small or mid-sized city. A college operates arts centers, community centers, health care facilities, libraries, housing, recreation centers, public safety services, school buildings, and sports venues, just like the city or town you live in.
There’s been discussion in the education press around an obvious question posed to college presidents: Will your campus re-open for the fall? Technically no college president has a firm answer. But at least one, Purdue University’s Mitch Daniels, made his intentions public. But even he, a former governor, said that any ideas for reopening campus were preliminary. Cristina Paxton, president of Brown University, has been a prominent voice for colleges to reopen. But she has not put a plan in place for her school as of today.
Like many of you, I would like to see every college campus reopen. But I also appreciate the thought and work that must go behind that decision. I was an urban economic development professional for eight years. I worked with senior administrators at two public colleges and a medical school to help them work with city government and the business community. More than ten years after I left the field, I met with an associate provost from one of those schools. He did me a huge favor in research for a novel, Defending College Heights.
With thorough detail, he walked me through the steps that he and others in the college’s administration would take after a murder had taken place on campus. The event of a single death on a college campus requires several people to make several decision I was in his office for probably two hours as he told me how different offices at the college would work together. He explained how the college would collaborate with local law enforcement, reach out to the students and their families and console the family of the deceased. A college could also cancel classes for a brief time. Admissions and enrollment would certainly be affected.
But the COVID-19 pandemic is more serious than a single loss of life. A responsible leader is going to get the answers to several serious questions before making a commitment to “open up” a college campus. I can imagine a few of the questions that must be answered.
- Can all incoming and returning students be tested for the coronavirus?
- If anyone tests positive, can the medical facilities in the area, college-owned and privately run, provide care?
- Do we redesign the school calendar around the possibility that students could be sent home during a semester?
- Would the college be forced to offer a reduced selection of courses, or ask students to take some online, even if they live on campus?
- Can individuals in a class transition to online learning, if they need to be quarantined?
- How will the student services and faculty help to educate those students who miss classes?
- Can the content of a class be transitioned online, if students were asked to vacate campus again?
- Where will students live, and what would those living arrangements be?
- What are the concerns in the community around students living off campus?
- Can the college and community agree that parties are postponed, and keep things that way?
- If the college has residential Greek life, can it close the houses that have too many residents?
- Or, do they ask these organizations to be less social and less residential?
- Can the college maintain authority to punish or dismiss students who violate public safety and sanitary policies?
- How will students get their meals and dine safely?
- Which recreational facilities remain open, and which are closed?
- How will students be able to use the libraries, especially during exam periods?
I do not work on a college campus every day. So I doubt that I have come close to listing all of the questions that must be answered. Even the college presidents who have spoken to the media do not have all of the questions, and certainly not all of the answers today. I only wish that the reporters would give them a fairer shake when they write a headline with their articles.