Kansas universities should keep doors open — responsibly

When possible, I support keeping campuses open to on-campus learning while carefully, thoroughly monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and vigorously encouraging responsible behavior.

By

Opinion

September 18, 2020 - 12:01 PM

The Jayhawker Liberation Front is in the news. Among other things, these ambitious KU students demand closing campuses to all in-person learning until COVID-19 is contained, along with an end to both capitalism and white supremacy.  Those last two demands are beyond the scope of this column, but what about the first one?

I am opposed. I bring a different perspective. I teach at Emporia State, a smaller, more rural campus with a lower percentage of students in fraternities and sororities.  A recent Axios report shows that smaller, more rural campuses like ESU are doing better at containing COVID-19 than larger schools and urban campuses. In addition, our affordable tuition means that the school is less hard-hit in the pocketbook. ESU’s official enrollment numbers were just released, showing little change from the same time last year. My position undoubtedly biases my perspective, but when possible, I support keeping campuses open to on-campus learning while carefully, thoroughly monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and vigorously encouraging responsible behavior.

A recent EDUCAUSE survey showed that 70% of students prefer their courses on campus. This trend is just as pronounced among the young “digital natives” as among the older, nontraditional students. In addition, struggling students have the most to lose from remote learning. As the editors of Education Week note, evidence shows that students with special needs fall further behind than their peers when learning migrates away from physical classrooms. Furthermore, many of my peers are noticing another problem:  lacking the funds to purchase a computer or WiFi service, many lower-income college students are attempting to do all their remote work from smartphones, often with poor results. The threat of COVID-19 is very real, but from K-12 to the university, many at-risk students are not so much learning remotely as losing a year of school. Keeping the campus open is their best shot at keeping up.

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