This is not just a matter of rehashing old news. The rise of Covid infections at universities, as narrated in Acade, tells us a lot about what we’ve been doing wrong all summer.
Look closely at how universities are handling the pandemic: as a marketing point. There is no plan.
As we see more and more outbreaks on campuses, university presidents and trustees will run for cover, and these kinds of rationalizations for what they did and did not do are going to come in a torrent. They’ll blame students first and foremost for breaking campus codes of conduct, and bring the hammer down on them. For example, here’s what Donde Plowman, chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, said in mid-August: “We will hold you responsible, and it’s possible that you could be expelled from school, and I will not hesitate to do that if our students are irresponsible.”
But who is being irresponsible here? Many are going to blame the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as it hasn’t provided anything like real guidance to universities and colleges, let alone elementary and secondary schools, to manage risk. We’ve been abandoned by our political leaders as we head into a dangerous period of the pandemic with Covid-19 potentially colliding with seasonal influenza this fall. If we had a real national commitment to testing, many more colleges and universities would be able to test their students, staff, and faculty members with cheaper, faster antigen-based screening tests, and rely on federal support to help them tackle all the rest of what is needed now to keep us all safe.
Even so, if a college’s plan to manage the coronavirus hangs on the behavior of 18- to 22-year-olds, it isn’t much of a plan at all; it’s a house of cards ready to collapse at a moment’s notice. This isn’t to infantilize our students, but to say that a comprehensive response is more than a signature on a campus compact. In states with still-substantial epidemics, there is not much universities can do to prevent outbreaks. There is too much virus, too many people, and too many opportunities for transmission. Furthermore, without testing frequently, outbreaks in this setting will quickly grow out of control — epidemics follow a pattern of exponential growth, and containing them early is key. It’s hard to make the case that reopening for face-to-face instruction can be done in this situation.
The Guardian reports on lack of masks and social distancing as students return to campuses. Closing bars early, mandating masks, setting $500 fines. It’s not just students; it’s not just a matter of staying away from non-compliant businesses and situations; infection spills over into the community – especially as communities become complacent.
Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, has ordered all bars shut down around the University of Iowa and Iowa State. In Story county, home to Iowa State, 74% of new cases over the past seven days were among people ages 19 to 24, Reynolds said on Thursday. In the same time period, 69% of new cases in Johnson county, the home of the University of Iowa, were in that age group.
“It is increasing the virus activity in the community, and its spilling over to other segments of the population,” Reynolds said.
The best word comes from George Handley, campus council chair at BYU:
BYU, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has its own rules requiring masks on campus. Requirements for indoor public spaces in town will help people stay healthy and businesses stay open, Handley said.
“This is actually about preserving our way of life, it’s not about destroying it contrary to what some people say,” Handley said.
This is a call to co-operate, not co-opt. Power is so unbalanced that moving ahead requires restoring some symmetry first.
while I am sympathetic with its argument, I find Gavazzi’s article inadequate. In the first place, it is a textbook example of “both sides-ism.” Indeed, I was tempted at one point to tweet back that the essay reminded me of calls to both Democrats and Republicans to put the country’s interest before that of their own party, as if both parties were equally guilty of failing to do so. I would argue that — if only because of their greater power — far more responsibility for the gulf between administration and faculty lies on the administrative side.
insofar as boards of this sort appoint campus presidents and their administrations remain beholden to their boards, Gavazzi’s call for mutual understanding and cooperation, however noble, valid, and urgent, will be insufficient to repair our governance structures in the context of the enormous challenges higher education will now face in the wake of the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and Donald Trump. However much one might endorse and applaud calls for cooperation like the one Gavazzi has issued, the harsh reality is that this is a matter of political power. And that power is not by any measure at present appropriately distributed.
“Dire” is an understatement. Mn State Universities haven’t yet mentioned how they are going to address the main educational concerns. I trust they are thinking about it, but haven’t mentioned that, either.
The fallback is to trust the faculty for advice and advising. Get students connected with their instructors, face-to-social-distance face, or video call. The faculty can then advise the administration on what to try.
Then there’s 15 Scenarios
Martin Kich on Academe Blog considers the implications of re-opening univeristies – and what’s being over-looked by more vocal planners:
Mitch Daniels, the president of Purdue University and former governor of Indiana has announced his intention to have on-site classes in the fall, emphasizing that about 80% of the West Lafayette community is under the age of 35 and therefore less vulnerable. It seems very improbable, however, that 80% of the university’s faculty and staff are under the age of 35 or that having a large number of asymptomatic carriers of the virus will be reassuring to anyone in the community who is over 35 or living with someone over 35.
If continuing to do most classes online is deemed untenable even for another semester or two, how tenable will it be if even one in three faculty at any university contracts the virus and has to be self-quarantined for several weeks?
How tenable will it be if even one in six faculty have a more severe form of the disease or even have to be hospitalized for treatment and need to be on medical leave for more than two weeks?
How tenable will it be if even a small number of faculty die from the disease?
Add to this the factor that the disease can spread between town and gown by asymptotic carriers and the risk becomes even less tenable. MinnState: take note, please.
Short-sighted administrators, over-centralized systems, under-funded students, over-priced tuition – and other hypehenizations. State universities have done themselves in. Reform: cut admin, fund tuition down to $10/credit, get classes back to 10-20 – suits social distancing – place emphasis back on face to face, boost grad offerings, get emphasis back on academics, and you’ll see enrollment back up.
Dane Kennedy in Academe Blog
it is corporate culture, a creature that has become all the rage in the business world—and now, it seems, is burrowing its way into universities. Its professed aim is to instill a sense of shared purpose among employees, but its real objective is far more coercive and insidious.
Our president is rumored to have forked over three to four million dollars to the Disney Institute to improve our culture (he refuses to reveal the cost). A select group of faculty and staff, those identified as opinion leaders, are being offered all-expenses paid trips to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando “to gain first-hand insight into Disney’s approach to culture.” For everyone else, the university is conducting culture training workshops that run up to two hours. All staff and managers are required to attend. Faculty are strongly “encouraged” to participate, and some contract faculty, who have little job security, evidently have been compelled to do so.
Sounds far too familiar. Admin looking for another way to control the university space. Sell ‘em cartoons.
Not sure who’s the bigger looser here: the admin who bought the goop from disney, the fac and staff at the university, or the students and parents who foot the bill for bilge water.
The result is predictable – as Kennedy observes: it’s Mickey Mouse. The admin plays Goofy.
Tracking pitched to students – and parents – as Keys to Success. Students aren’t naive: they know admin is tracking them for retention and sales – not security. Tracking via D2L is prevalent, too. They know when you are reading; they know when you are late. On D2L, that creepy prof can see your exchanges with other students – and administrators can see when that creepy prof is checking in and out.
Balan listed off several easily foreseeable scenarios in which relatively untested school-wide surveillance systems put data in the hands of faculty. An evildoer can carry out a man-in-the-middle attack on any network, injecting downloads with malicious code. An impersonation attacker could spoof a Bluetooth identifier. A bad teacher with access to location data could stalk a student; a good teacher with a dumb password could be easily hacked. “Say I’m a teacher, and my password is Whitney123,” Balan postulated. “Arguably, out of ten thousand students, someone is going to try that password.”
If school surveillance looks anything like school security, he says, a “password123” blunder ranks high on the list of probabilities; Balan calls the present state of security tech in public spaces like hospitals and university campuses “a disaster.” “The software and operating systems are outdated, and passwords are leaked,” he said. “Surveillance cameras are on the same network as other computers, and the access to that network would be the word ‘password.’ And by no means was this an isolated case.”
It’s an opportunity for guerrilla theatre. How about hacking a classroom to show all students present all the time. How about sitting down at all entrances to an admin building – blocking them in or out. How about spamming the D2L message system with Wham! lyrics.
Vick countered with an offer to students:
If you are at one of these schools asking you to install apps on your phone to track you, hit me up for some totally hypothetical academic ideas on how one might dismantle such a system.
We’re always up for hacker class, so Vick supplied Gizmodo with a few theories for inquiring minds.
Barlow argues for intellectual discussion at universities. But discussion has been co-opted by feckless university administration bowing to Industry Leaders. That’s probably too simplistic, but it wasn’t long ago that state universities offered more substance than TED Talks.
I care that American colleges and universities are putting forward meaningless drivel like “As an institution of higher learning, open dialogue on all topics is one of our core principles.” For that is not true, never has been true, and putting it forth simply pulls one further into the morass instead of providing a plank to solid ground. I care about the abandonment of gatekeeping responsibility, at Beloit, at most other colleges and universities, and even at social-media entities such as Facebook and Twitter.
I care about institutional responsibility.
Real intellectual discussion (not the sort of tit-for-tat ‘debate’ YAF is promoting for its own political purposes but that to which American higher education aspires) requires careful gatekeeping, something we have lost track of since the internet started flattening the dykes that were keeping out the waters of nonsense. True, there have always been problems with the gatekeepers, but that does not mean that their role isn’t necessary.