The stories of how university life has changed are reported in the news daily. We read stories of students being expelled, for congregating, partying, and being kids. The Washington Post reports how it was all ‘so predictable’.
The problem is that university business models are not anti-fragile, they aren’t even smart. They are based upon the way the world used to be, not the way it is, and definitely not the way it is going to be. There is a case that the current higher ed model no longer serves the interests of society, and COVID is shining a light on the hypocrisy.
One does not need a Ph.D. to know that socialization is one of the main drivers for students to attend universities. The universities capitalize on this by creating lucrative franchises that provide unity, community, and connection for their students.
Greek life, classes, study groups, student activities are all about socialization and connecting with contemporaries. For the Ivys proximity is arguable the greatest value of the education. By removing the ability to socialize, a large part of the value proposition is removed.
This is an inconvenient fact now for the higher education machine. Leadership proceeds pretending that the reality of school is simply about classes, and they are applying dictatorial, draconian tools to keep students from assembling, despite having called them back to school.
This attempt at controlling the behavior of young adults through intimidation will fail. It will fail because some of the presumably, smartest people in the land have no interest, to be honest about the reality of being a 19-year-old at college.
As Upton Sinclair once wrote, “It is difficult for a man to understand something when his salary depends upon not understanding”.
If you are, for example, Nicolas Zeppos, Chancellor of Vanderbilt University, earning $2.23 Million a year, charging students $70K for tuition, there is a large incentive to call students back to campus and pretend that everything will be okay. All one needs to do is to impose new rules that put students in the crosshairs of the COVID police (AKA Office of Student Accountability), and not acknowledge that it is all just a futile attempt to keep students from being students, and fully availing themselves of the value they have paid.
Kids will be kids and calling thousands of them back to a far-away city to do what they could have done from home, eg. watch classes via Zoom- is just a bad idea. We all know it is about business models. It is about money, and the point of this is that the culture of higher education, the archaic premise of faculty for life, all of it, needs to be reexamined, possibly burnt down, and started over.
The point is that ‘study from home’ at a reduced cost could’ve been a temporary solution for a semester. Instead, they put students and society at risk, principally because of outdated business models, and we all suffer as a result. And, even worse, kids are being penalized for being kids- having been lured back to a place where they are not safe.
Is this really the best that the brightest minds in our country can come up with?