A critical view of returning to campus

A decision has been made by my employer to reopen for in-person, on campus instruction in the Fall. There are important details about the plan that need to be fully understood when assessing it critically. However, communication about this decision has focused on how great it will be to be together again (in comparison to how the Spring semester went, when classes had to be rapidly transitioned to online only.)

In a sense, the upbeat tone and positive spin on the decision are completely understandable. There is real concern about money, basically, although that isn’t mentioned anywhere in official communications. The hope is that this approach will appease many different constituents, but especially that it will bolster the all important enrollment figures. Tuition revenue is vitally important for ongoing financial survival. Publicly, though, greater emphasis for the Fall plan is given to how we will all be able to be together again in embodied community.

Except, we won’t be…not really. Or, not in the same way that we previously practiced, and took for granted. Just about every aspect of the new normal for being on campus will be significantly different in order to safeguard health and adhere to state and national guidelines regarding this pandemic. This includes, for example, the plan for having classes switch off between in-person and online instruction each week, so that the teaching modality will be inherently mixed. This is to enforce social distancing (meaning: drastically reduced classroom sizes) within a constrained class schedule and constrained space options.

Essentially, we are all being asked to twist ourselves into a metaphorical pretzel — and this is hard, very hard work — to achieve a goal of “being together again.” Yet that goal seems to miss the fact that what being together again will look and feel like is going to be a limited imitation of what it was before the pandemic. At the most optimistic, it will allow some, limited level of being together. At the most pessimistic, even a limited “being together again” will foster a breeding ground for wider exposure to COVID-19.

Thus, the question: is it worth it? Is this goal worth all of the very difficult work required to achieve something that won’t at all be like it was before? At this point, I am doubtful. I sincerely hope and pray that I will be proven wrong.

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