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What does higher ed do this fall?


A general game plan seems to be emerging at a lot of universities, that goes something like this:

(1) A significant percentage of classes will be held both in person and remotely at the same time. The idea here is that classroom capacities are going to be far below normal, so that, for example, students are supposed to attend in person one of every other or every third or fourth class session, while attending remotely for the other sessions.

(2) Residence halls and other student facilities will be open, although with reduced capacities. Attempts will be made to isolate students into self-contained social and academic “bubbles.”

(3) College football will be played, perhaps with a reduced schedule and limits on how many fans can attend.

Personally (not that anyone is asking) I think these plans are pretty unrealistic.

As for classes, it’s far from clear that a hybrid in-person/remote model is, for a pedagogical perspective, better than going purely remote. (It’s obviously greatly inferior from a public health perspective). For one thing, teaching to some students who are physically present and to others who are on a computer screen is going to be, to put it mildly, complicated. For another, if only for liability reasons schools are going to have to give students great if not unlimited discretion regarding whether they want to attend in-person or remotely, which as a practical matter means many formally hybrid classes may end up being more or less fully remote anyway, but with a lot of intervening chaos in the interim.

(2) As this op-ed from a psychologist makes clear, trying to get undergraduates in particular to practice social distancing in any sort of consistent way is based on some very . . . optimistic assumptions about the risk assessments the people in these cohorts undertake.

(3) I would be shocked if the football thing works. Some teams are already rebelling:

After a virtual team meeting Thursday night, 30 UCLA football players united in support behind a document they believe will protect them in their upcoming return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The document, reviewed by the Los Angeles Times late Thursday, asserts that players do not trust coach Chip Kelly’s program to act in their best interest, particularly in regard to their health, a realm where it says UCLA has “perpetually failed us,” citing “neglected and mismanaged injury cases.” The document does not provide examples.

The players demanded that a “third-party health official” be on hand for all football activities to see that protocols for COVID-19 prevention are being followed; that anonymous whistleblower protections are provided for athletes and staff to report violations; and that each player can make a decision about whether to come back to Westwood without fear of losing his scholarship or other retaliation.

“These demands reflect our call for an environment in which we do not feel pressured to return to competition, and if we choose not to return, that our decision will be respected,” the document reads. “If our demands are not met, we will refrain from booster events, recruiting events and all football-related promotional activities.

“The decision to return to training amidst a global pandemic has put us, the student-athletes, on the frontlines of a battle that we as a nation have not yet been able to win. We feel that as some of the first members of the community to attempt a return to normalcy, we must have assurances that allow us to make informed decisions and be protected regardless of our decision.”

For the Bruins, the clock is ticking. Many players are expected to report to voluntary workouts on Monday.


On the same day the state of South Carolina announced its highest number of coronavirus cases yet with 1,081, Clemson revealed that 25 additional people in its athletic department have tested positive for COVID-19.

Clemson athletics student-athletes and staff have completed 315 tests for the coronavirus this month, and 28 of those have come back positive. The school announced 25 new cases Friday after three were announced last week in an initial report.

The number includes 23 football players, [!] two members of Clemson’s football staff and three student-athletes from other sports, according to a school spokesperson.

Clemson’s football coach is Dabo Swinney, a fine Christian gentleman who is paid nine million dollars a year, and has threatened to quit his job if his players get paid any money.

As Erik and Scott have commented in the context of primary and secondary education, there really are no good options here. The search will have to be for a combination of least bad options, which in turn will require careful assessments of what harm reduction (not harm elimination, which is impossible) strategies make the most sense, given the many often conflicting interests of those affected by these choices.

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