Will Faculty Accept the Risk of Going Back to Campus?
So in recent posts we’ve listed out re-opening plans for both four-year and community colleges.
There is also a lot of understandable uncertainty out there concerning fall 2020 semester, particularly with the recent rise in coronavirus cases, and even more so given that the average age of the infected has dropped as more younger people are infected with the virus. This of course increases the risk of infection between students if/when students return to campus or secondary schools. So although there are many questions, and many unanswered, the one question we want to address tonight, is will faculty accept the risk of going back to campus?
Sure, it’s well understood that younger people are less likely to die from being infected with the coronavirus. But it is also understood that they can still spread the virus, even if they are asymptomatic or have low levels of symptoms. So while the risk of death to the students is not particularly high, there is still a possibility that they could transmit the virus to faculty and staff. So this is what brings about the question, will faculty and staff take the risk? Will you?
In the news recently, the faculty at Georgia Tech University have answered that question with a resounding no. At least for 800 of the 1100 faculty, who signed a letter to their board, have said they are not willing to accept the risk. At least they are not willing to accept the risk under the current re-opening plan.
The faculty are asking, among other things, that the school require face masks be worn everywhere on campus, provide large-scale COVID-19 testing, ensure timely contact tracing of new infections and make most classes take place remotely during the fall semester.
The question for most institutions will be, can they afford to do the level of testing, isolation and contact tracing necessary to keep a campus open that will almost certainly, as most will, have students becoming infected on campus. At the University of California, San Diego:
They’re hoping to scale up when the campus returns to full capacity — about 30,000 undergrad students — aiming to test about 70 to 75% of the community every month.
That’s 20,000+ tests at a minimum of $50 a test (they range $50-$150), that’s a minimum budget of $1,000,000 per month. The reality is, beyond large research university’s with hospital programs and prominent private schools with significant endowments, how many schools can absorb those kind of costs?
I read a piece a couple of months ago, I’m really sorry I can’t track it down. The premise was simply, no matter what your president says, you won’t be on campus this fall. I don’t think the author was completely correct, but I think they were mostly on point.
Four-year residential college’s, at least the ones without huge endowments, need the tuition of returning students to meet their budgets. If they go completely online, students may opt for less expensive online options like community colleges. Having already dealt with partial housing and tuition refunds, without full, or near full enrollments many college’s will be facing extreme budget issues. If students have the expectation of returning to campus, and in fact are able to for a time, they are less likely to move on to other institutions. This should help the bottom line of four-year residential colleges. As these plans materialize however, especially with raising infection levels, will colleges be able to afford the requirements to keep students safe to include testing, isolation, contact tracing and limited class sizes to meet social distancing requirements.
Now, I can see this last paragraph raising the ire of four-year administrators, presidents and boards. I won’t go as far to say that colleges are bringing students to campus solely for financial reasons or unrealistically planning a campus return just so students won’t go elsewhere. I believe that those making that decision truly believe that they can bring students to campus, return some level of normalcy and do it in a relative safe manner. While testing, isolating and contact tracing when there are infections on campus. There is plenty of public and political pressure to do so as well. I think the desire for normalcy, the political and public pressure and the financial incentive is what is moving the decision to return to campuses forward. The question is, will faculty and staff go along with this idea? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.