Are administrators to blame for campus COVID outbreaks?
Originally posted September 1, 2020
Here we are on September 1st and there are already over 8,000 positive COVID cases on college campuses. Some colleges haven’t even started yet and most are within the first couple of weeks of classes. One of the things that I have found interesting over the last week are the attitudes around responsibility for the situation.
First, I saw a comment last night from a colleague blaming administrators for kids partying on campus. Now I think we can blame the administration for deciding to open campuses, but I think it’s going a bit far to blame them for kids partying. His suggestion was that colleges need to have more activities for students. Now let’s work through that, group activities are exactly the sort of thing that spreads the disease. Was is it naive to believe student wouldn’t socialize and party? Of course it was, but is it the college’s responsibility to entertain every student in a socially distant way every day? I just don’t think that’s reasonable.
Second, I read a piece in USA Today this evening, where a student was claiming she felt inordinately blamed because she’s being safe. She feels that people are being overly tough on students. The article’s response to this was the following:
Though sizable student gatherings have spawned COVID-19 outbreaks on campuses nationwide, experts said chastising students for socializing is harmful, ineffective and fails to consider students’ developmental needs.
The article then went on to talk about how keeping socially distant is really tough on college students and we need to understand that they go to college for more than academics.
So yes, let’s blame college administrations for the audacious decision to re-open campuses, a decision that as I’ve stated before I believe was motivated more by financial needs, including supporting football, than about the safety and needs of students. And yes, it was folly if those same administrations thought students wouldn’t socialize and party unsafely. So let’s drop the blame on them for those decisions. However, do students get no blame? Is personal responsibility in a pandemic beyond comprehension to college students? Sure, colleges should perhaps work harder to create social bubbles and limit their exposure but don’t they have to do their part?
If we remove all responsibility from students, how do they leave college and enter the workforce, independent living and adult life, which, beyond a degree is what college is supposed to prepare them for. This is an issue I have talked about in higher education for years. We absolutely need to understand students where they are and show them compassion. But we also have to prepare them for the next stage of their lives, if we remove all responsibility from them, how are we doing that?
What do you think?