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.
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.
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