BY: STEVEN ZHOU, FAUX ESTATE CORRESPONDENT
Editor’s note: This piece is a work of fiction written for Fourth Estate’s satire issue, Faux Estate.
In light of all that’s been happening with the coronavirus pandemic, higher education is facing a number of new and unprecedented challenges.
To assist with the administrators making such difficult decisions, I have drawn upon my extensive expertise in the field to analyze the pros and cons of each possible solution to a given problem. I am confident that the right answer, in all situations, is to just close up shop and shut down the university. Let me explain why.
With regard to graduation…
Option 1: Continue as planned. But if you do, be ready to face a whirlwind of acrimony and disdain as public health officials condemn any attempts to hold events of more than 10 people, even as far out as May. Also don’t forget that the speed of transmission with coronavirus is probably two to three times that of the flu, so if you continue with graduation, you’re risking being two to three times more responsible for a major outbreak.
Option 2: Cancel graduation entirely. But if you do, know that you are inflicting sizable amounts of mental and emotional damage to seniors who can no longer experience the rich and life-changing moment of walking across a stage. Also, be ready for the backlash from your students — one petition to postpone graduation at Georgetown University was signed by 2,136 students within a few days.
Option 3: Move graduation online or do some other “meaningful act of celebration,” like a booze cruise or week-long trip to the Bermuda Triangle. Then field a slew of complaints ranging from “I don’t want to pay the full graduation fee for a lame cop-out of a graduation” to “You’re discriminating against disadvantaged students who don’t have the financial and technical means to join a massive online meeting.”
With regard to coursework…
Option 1: Continue as planned. No one wants to skip class. It’s probably well worth a 2 percent decrease in the university’s population to avoid having to miss the next lecture in PSYC 300.
Option 2: Move all classes online. Sure, the haphazard and sudden move to online coursework might be giving online education a bad name, but there’s no need to worry about that. You’ll probably find that the move is putting undue pressure on adjuncts and widening the gap between them and tenured faculty; that’s not a bad thing, right? If students don’t have access to affordable internet and find themselves unable to keep up with the coursework, oh well. And since many students will complain that they should get some sort of tuition refund due to inferior education, might as well make the whole semester free.
Option 3: Make every class Pass/Fail. My colleague at the Fourth Estate just advocated such a move, whether it be mandatory for all classes, or optional for students to decide themselves on a class-by-class basis. Of course, making it mandatory would penalize students who are doing well in a class and need it to boost their GPA. At the same time, making it optional would result in systematic discrimination such that disadvantaged students face no other choice but to elect Pass/Fail, while students with the technical and financial advantages can continue to earn the GPA boost. Penalize all students, or introduce systematic discrimination. Take your pick.
Option 4: Cancel the rest of the semester. One college has done just that, canceling the rest of spring semester in light of the many challenges of moving classes online. Sure, this means that a quarter of the student population will not be able to graduate as planned, which then impacts many who already made plans for employment or graduate education starting in the summer. But education should never be just about “getting a job,” and this is the perfect way to ensure students learn that – by preventing them from getting one!
With regard to admissions…
Option 1: Continue as planned. Except somehow, you now need to accommodate that entrance exams have been canceled, college visits are shut down, and parents are in general just nervous about sending their children away from home in such a tumultuous time. I suggest bribing families with truckloads of hand sanitizer and toilet paper.
Option 2: Change your admissions requirements and/or deadlines. Many schools, like Mason, are now making standardized testing scores optional for admissions. Of course, this means they now need to rely on almost entirely subjective methods of judging applicant quality — and we all know that subjectivity creates ripe opportunities for discrimination lawsuits and biased decision-making. Most schools have pushed back the admissions decision deadline. Another option is to flat-out make it easier for students to be admitted, by pushing up their acceptance rate. Perhaps Mason could even target students with GPAs less than 2.0. After all, after this semester, we’ll need the income.
Option 3: Cancel admissions for the 2020-21 school year. The San Francisco Art Institute has already announced that it will no longer accept new students. They’re saying the coronavirus could last up to a year. In the name of protecting any new students from being exposed, what better way than a nationwide refusal to enroll any new college students for an entire year? Besides, this year’s high school seniors could just go work instead, as some people are now advocating that an internship at Google is more valuable than a Harvard education.
With regard to closures…
Option 1: Keep campus open. This way, you can pay your employees, and students who have no home to return to (or an unsafe home) are able to stay. But Liberty University, which is doing just that, is facing major condemnation for putting staff and students at risk. Plus, you’re risking creating a safe space for the black market of toilet paper sales to flourish on campus.
Option 2: Keep essentials open, but get faculty and students off campus. Both students and legislators are concerned by such a move, as doing so puts undue pressure on students to book last-minute flights, go home to unsafe environments or be stuck in a place without technology necessary to continue their schooling. Sure, your staff is paid, but even that has been painted as a discriminatory move that protects faculty health and leaves staff out to dry.
Option 3: Close campus entirely. So does that mean you still pay all the support staff? You better, otherwise the public will condemn your cold, ruthless heart. But of course, that means money being paid out without any source of income from students. Remember, doing this also has a direct negative impact on small businesses in college towns. Survival of the fittest, right?
When all’s said and done, you have no more choices left; every decision you make will be met with criticism and cries of foul play. The financial implications of any decision are huge: The market has already predicted that some colleges will be forced to close permanently. It’s clearly one of the toughest challenges higher education has faced in decades, if not centuries.
So in the face of such challenges, what better solution than to give up? That way, there’s no more need to deal with all the whining and complaining. Close up shop, shut down your university, and all your troubles will magically go away. Who needs college anyway?