Which, as it relates to COVID-19 and colleges and universities, means exponential, contagious growth — the sadly now familiar "r naught" rising rapidly across much of the nation. We wrote about this growth curve — and why colleges were some of the first organizations to close — here.
For a large number of universities, we believe the articles below, many written by faculty and higher education experts concluding that universities and colleges should not be on campus in the fall, should be deeply considered. Especially as there is some evidence that non-fatal COVID-19 cases may lead to long-term adverse health outcomes, including possible neurological damage. Currently, most universities are employing hybrid and social distancing mitigation models: an extraordinary range of plans to put their campuses in theoretically more safe bubbles – arks – wherein some cases students are asked to almost literally lineup two by two, or even one by one, while moving into or about campus. But "one by one" bucks in the very face of risk behavior among the preponderance of the college age cohort, where risk aversion is at it lowest.
COVID-19 appears that it may be getting more infectious but less lethal. This, to some, might be an argument to remain open — "We wouldn't close a campus for the cold or flu season" — you can almost hear the words being uttered by a university spokesperson. But we think it is the exact opposite. The Spanish Flu lasted only two years and never required a vaccine. It mutated over a relatively short amount of time to become less lethal and, with herd immunity, simply ended in the summer of 1919. But the second wave of the Spanish Flu was by far its most deadly. Broad health policy failures and geopolitical inability to social distance were likely the primary contributors to the fatality increase in the second wave. When social distancing did occur, the second wave rapidly declined. Is a second COVID-19 wave coming? No one can answer that question definitively, but that possibility certainly exists, and "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" comes to the front of the mind. History has taught us that in a relatively short amount of time, viruses tend to mutate to be less fatal, but that in the case of the Spanish Flu it was a failure to implement effective distancing practices that caused the deadliest of waves.
An important disclaimer: we are not medical or scientific experts. We are not board members of universities, college presidents or chancellors, or deans of graduate schools. Indeed, much of the above (and below) relate to large universities, not small colleges in college town dependent communities, and certainly not law schools – of which the vast majority have the ability to be more nimble and do not have dorm-life. We do not have to make fiscal decisions, nor freeze salaries, lay off employees, declare financial exigency, or close a school down. And we are acutely aware that COVID-19 is indeed novel, and that "no amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all of our knowledge is about the past and all of our decisions are about the future." Which is why, at the end of the day, the gamble for the fall at this moment seems too risky for many universities and colleges to take – especially when the COVID-19 situation is getting worse but might only last for a relatively short amount of time.
Select pieces that explicitly advocate for universities not to reopen:
- There is No Safe Way to Reopen Colleges this Fall — by Shweta Bansal, Colin Carlson, and John Kraemer, Washington Post
- Higher Ed: Enough Already — by Scott Galloway, No Mercy/No Malice
- INSIGHT: Universities Should Stay Closed to Protect Workers of Color — by Daria Roithmayr of USC Gould School of Law, Gregg Gonsalves of Yale School of Public Health (epidemiology of microbial diseases), Anthony Paul Farley of Albany Law School, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor of Princeton University, and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva of Duke University (via Business Insider)
- The Only Question for Law School Re-Openings — by William H. Widen, Jurist
- CDC says colleges should not give covid-19 tests to everybody returning to campus this fall. Here’s why. — by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
- Nonsense and sensibility: hybrid is not the answer — by Daniel Rodriguez, PrawfsBlawg
- Bringing College Students Back to Classrooms During COVID-19 is a Mistake — by Katie Mack, Medium
- 121 University of Washington students test positive for Covid-19 — by Hollie Silverman and Susannah Cullinane, CNN
- 239 Experts With One Big Claim: The Coronavirus Is Airborne — by Apoorva Mandavilli, New York Times
- Tuscaloosa college students who knew they had COVID-19 attended parties — by Jack Helean, local ABC News
- UGA confirms 143 positive COVID-19 cases among students, staff — by Zachary Hansen, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
- A Ph.D. Student Simulated a Day in the Life of a Covid 19-Era Campus. It Went Viral, but It Wasn’t Pretty. — by Megan Zahneis, Chronicle of Higher Education
Other related links:
- Higher Ed Is Not a Zero-Sum Game — by Aaron Hanlon, Chronicle of Higher Education
- Op-Ed: Your college may ask you to sign a waiver for harm inflicted by COVID-19. Don’t do it — by Heidi Li Feldman, Los Angeles Times
- American Bar Association Managing Director’s Guidance Memo on Emergency Disasters — February 2020