The Case For Putting College On Hold

A professor argues that colleges and universities should cancel the fall semester to protect against campus COVID-19 outbreaks.

By Alexandra HartAugust 17, 2020 1:40 pm, ,

Many colleges and universities have adopted online learning, or hybrid in-person and online classes for the fall semester, as COVID-19 infection rates continue to make returning to full-scale in-person instruction seem risky. So shouldn’t colleges and universities just cut their losses and call off the fall semester?

Yascha Mounk makes this case in a piece for the Atlantic, where he’s a contributor. Mounk is also associate professor of the Practice of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins University. Mounk told Texas Standard that inviting large numbers of students, even if they represent only a fraction of the overall campus population, back to campus this fall is a bad idea.

“When you look at how strong an urge young students have to socialize and hang out with each other, I simply think that it’ll prove impossible to contain outbreaks,” Mounk said. “And if universities have to close down precipitously and send all those students scurrying back, all across the country, they will then go and just spread the virus again to all kinds of communities across the nation.”

Mounk said creating rules against student parties or other non-socially-distanced gatherings will be ineffective, as young people are likely to simply ignore regulations they don’t like, or that interfere with their desire to get together, and even have romantic relationships.

“The idea that people will actually refrain from seeing their friends is unlikely,” he said. “And some colleges, frankly, are living in a world of make-believe.”

Mounk acknowledges that keeping college campuses closed will have harmful effects on the colleges themselves, and on the economies of towns where they’re located. He said the solution is to contain the coronavirus first, await development of a vaccine and ultimately, reopen campuses when the rate of transmission has decreased.

“I have a desire, that when I’m scheduled to teach again next spring, I’ll be standing in front of a full lecture hall of students looking up at me, and not a few faces on Zoom,” Mounk said. 

Web story by Shelly Brisbin.

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