States across the nation have been making announcements on when they plan to allow citizens to reopen businesses and get back to making a living. Some governors, such as Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, have chosen to keep their communities closed for another 60 days, causing angry protests. Now, universities are faced with the conundrum of whether to reopen in the fall and risk being sued or to stay closed and face financial ruin.
As Liberty Nation’s Onar Am discussed, online education, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is becoming more of the norm in today’s social-distancing world. Even when universities do reopen, they’re not likely to resemble what we’re used to, as Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Michigan Association of State Universities, explained: “Even if university campuses do open up, it’s just absolutely under no circumstances going to be what it was like last fall — and for the last hundred years. There will be significant social distancing and physical distancing in place.”
Traditionally, college is a place where students and teachers come together to exchange ideas and views in a person-to-person forum. Debates and discussions are part and parcel of the university experience; with self-isolation, that may not be possible in the near future. As Mr. Am opined:
“Today, most are convinced that without such a public school, no one would learn to read and write. The truth is that, until the 1850s, most schools in America were private and literacy rates were high. By contrast, around one in seven Americans are today functionally illiterate. Public education does not have an impressive track record.”
But colleges face a severe financial threat – especially to their credit ratings — if they do not reopen, and soon. An S&P analyst said, “In our opinion, a fall 2020 with significantly fewer international students, as well as lower domestic enrollments overall, will cause serious operational pressures.” In fact, the global ratings group revised the outlook for more than 100 universities and colleges to “negative” ratings.
Reopening has its challenges as well, though. How do such institutes — which promote group gatherings, sometimes in confined spaces, and offer dorm-life quarters — protect their faculty and students from contracting Coronavirus? What legal ramifications would they likely face?
James Keller, a co-chairman of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr’s higher education and K-12 schools practice, represents colleges and universities. According to him, the institutes are in a “tough spot.” Whose responsibility is it if schools reopen and another outbreak occurs? Would that be government officials, the schools, or the parents? “Ultimately, are parents going to try to hold the school accountable if you bring people back and there’s an outbreak in a dorm and 20 kids get sick?” Keller questioned. His short answer, “Yes.” He further warned:
“I think the schools that reopen are absolutely at risk for claims — it’s a pretty straightforward negligence claim or maybe even a fraud claim. You represented your campus would be safe. Relying on that, I sent my child there, but it turns out it wasn’t safe. I would envision, from my perspective, defending schools with all kinds of defenses.”
So, what’s a university to do? Many of the GOP-led states suggest they will open their schools to students this fall. In Indiana, Purdue University, with an enrollment of more than 30,000 students, plans to reopen for the fall. The proposal includes testing students throughout the year for signs of the virus. “I noticed where Purdue University, a great school in a great state, wants to open and have students come in,” President Donald Trump praised. “I think that is correct.”
Not all of Indiana is in agreement. Michael McRobbie, Indiana University president, said a return to traditional in-person teaching by fall is “highly unlikely.”
Meanwhile, Harvard is looking to open for fall 2020. In Georgia, the university system faces serious financial liabilities, to the tune of upward of $350 million in revenue, just from the shuttered summer months. University of Georgia President Jere Morehead said a “staggered, phased-in approach” is being considered to bring students back on campus, and he plans to start in-person teaching in August.
The University of Texas as well as Texas A&M expect to resume classes for the fall, and the University of Arizona will begin in-person instructions on Aug. 24.
The pandemic and the government’s response have dramatically changed education for the time being, but will that last beyond the crisis? Mr. Am commented that:
“The online revolution is coming at just the time when people are growing weary of the politicization of the universities and out-of-control student debt that often comes with paying for an increasingly worthless degree. Could online education restore academic diversity and quality in America?”
Read more from Kelli Ballard.
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