I have repeatedly stressed the need for fellowship during the transition in recent weeks. It will be disastrous for universities and colleges as educational communities to return in a way that involves only certain people. If international students, students with older relatives, students with a weakened immune system or students with disabilities are either not invited at the same time as everyone else or only offered a continuation of distance learning while others return face to face, the reopening will be a farce. Quite apart from the fact that it is actually such a two-stage system More Delivery is time consuming and sends a terrible message about who is part of the community and who is not (if you want to see a particularly ugly example of this, check it out As Purdue University said, it will face re-entry in the fall) – and that will have a real impact in the coming years.
(Reservation: institutions could be able to distinguish between doctoral students and students. If all students are not on campus, it should be possible to hold small graduate classes in larger student rooms. I think that would be fine as long as measures are taken to ensure this all Doctoral students could safely come back.)
I broadly think that Canadian universities have thought of these terms when developing fall plans. For this reason, we see (no one says anything openly behind the scenes, of course) that the plans that are being created assume that the entire fall semester will be online, precisely because there is no easy way to turn your face again -to stand in the middle of a term without excluding people. For the sake of the campus community, we are probably online every semester.
(Quick update: The Digital Resources Consortium I proposed here and here is now with a little philanthropic support and with the esteemed David Graham, former Provost at Concordia and Ottawa, at the top. Shoot me a line at out @ higheredstrategy.com if you want to join or learn more)
So easy, right? Everything is online until January?
Maybe not. Because there is another kind of community, we have to think about it too.
Take an extreme example like: I don’t know – Nunavut Arctic College. Not an international student to speak of. Almost all students live in the immediate vicinity of one of the locations. No infections in the area. No reason really not to teach personally, is it? Now think of an example that is different little bit. Maybe the University College of the North in Manitoba. Or Moncton’s satellite campus in Edmundston or Shippagan. Low / no local cases, a local student body – why face to face delay?
You see where I’m going, right? Places like McGill or Centennial College, where less than half of the students come from close to school and where there will likely still be cases of COVID transmission in the community into the fall (albeit hopefully at a much lower level than now). the ability to pan online in the medium term is practically zero.
But what about cases where there is no community transmission, lots of local kids AND lots of international students? Say UPEI. There may be almost no barrier to the return of native children, but for the reasons of “community” mentioned above, the school may be reluctant to open its doors without international students being able to return. But think of the argument from the local community, whose tax money has built the university: why should their children have to wait to come face to face just because international students can’t make it back? Whose university is that anyway?
This is also a community argument, which in many ways is no less valid than the appeal to the internal campus community. And there are quite a number of institutions that will be in a gray area (i.e. somewhere between McGill and the Nunavut Arctic College), so there will be real questions about how to evaluate these competing claims by the community. Balancing these two sets of community needs is one of those fiendishly difficult tasks that university and college presidents will have to do in the next few weeks. I don’t envy her.
Quick note: I’ll take a week off next week. I should have had a break in my regular schedule last week, but it was too busy, so I moved, but now I’m really burned out and have to take my week. We’ll see you here on Monday, May 18thth for a last 4-5 weeks sprint to the finish. If I’m not back on that date, check your spam filters (where these emails are often filed after a week’s break).
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