The missing piece of the coronavirus conversation on too many of our college campuses

“This fall, we plan to…”

“Our intention is to begin the fall semester by…”

“While paying attention to health conditions, we have decided that the fall term will…”

Statements such as these have now been made public by America’s colleges and universities. Let’s set aside whether you agree with the decision to go on ground or online; and, yes, I know some institutions are still hashing out the critical details associated with these choices.

However, as college and university leaders continue to work through health and safety protocols, and determine which (if any) students will be on campus (that’s an abbreviated list of challenges), there’s something I don’t hear being sufficiently discussed —


In April, I wrote what one critic described as a “dark” outlook for the future of higher education in the United States. That piece was based on the premise that on Jan. 1, 2021, the American college campus would be returning to normal.

Well, that was folly.

I got that date horribly wrong because there’s no way America’s college campuses will be normal in just six months’ time. (I place primary blame for the national coronavirus disaster on President Trump’s horrific absence of leadership. Now I’ll get off my soap box.)

Coronavirus will continue to tear into the United States throughout the remainder of the summer, into the fall and then into the winter. Therefore, normal is not going to be possible when we welcome in a new calendar year, and that means at least some of the potential changes to higher education I discussed only three months ago now seem all the more likely.

As a result, it’s now time to identify what every college or university’s long-term pandemic plan is.

That plan goes far beyond on ground or remote delivery of instruction (yes, you should throw the hybrid concepts in there); plexiglass shields in classrooms; wearing masks; deep cleaning of buildings; and when the sports teams can play.

These choices might seem simple in comparison to figuring out the institution’s survival. Viewed another way, and I apologize if the following words offend anyone, the fall might resemble parents outlining a plan for watching their child who must stay home for two weeks because of a really bad case of chickenpox, while the future might resemble those parents laying out a plan because one of them has life-threatening cancer.

A few ideas that must be OFF the table as the long-term plan is built

1. “Let’s take the same percentage of money from everyone.”

2. Pet projects

3. Tribalism (“a university is not a university without a …”)

4. Blame

5. Cutting administrative positions just because that offers a sense of fairness

6. Deferring or stopping required maintenance of facilities

7. Athletics are sacrosanct

A few ideas that must be ON the table

1. Solid data that must be openly shared with all

2. Partnerships with other regional institutions

3. Programs with future growth and programs with a record of success are to be enhanced

4. The institution’s current strategic plan retains value

5. Cutting administrative positions where applicable

6. Generating revenue through renting or selling underused or no longer in use facilities

I emphasize the word “few” in both lists; I don’t pretend what I’ve presented here is the be-all-and-end-all to the conversation.

Sadly, the long-term plan at public institutions also must recognize that state funding will continue to be reduced. That’s a short-sighted decision, but too many governors and state legislators don’t seem to care.

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