Many readers thought we were crazy to give 50/50 odds, back on March 17, that Williams would still be closed for the fall semester. How do you like those odds now? President Mandel’s decision to re-open (or not) in September is the most important made by a Williams leader in at least 50 years. So, let’s spend a week discussing it!

What will students do?

If Williams is open, students will come. They know that they are safe, or at least about as safe as they would be wherever they are. And, as much as they love their parents, 6 months at home will have been enough.

If Williams is still virtual, then things get weird/ugly very fast, as we discussed last month. I doubt that Williams has the stomach to play hardball with admitted first years, as we advised. I don’t see the College having any power at all over upperclassmen. Would 50 students take a gap year? 500 hundred? Informed speculation welcome. But, the key issue from today’s perspective is that Williams needs to make a decision before it knows those details. And, if we just open, we won’t ever know how bad things would have been if we had closed. In that way, it is like pandemic fighting! Successful prudent behavior will, after the fact, seem like needless panic.

We might wait till July — as a smaller college we can be more nimble than big universities — and find out what, say, Brown’s initial experience is if they announce a virtual-only plan in May. We might use anonymous surveys. We might have staff simply call up hundreds of students.

This is one reason why I am in favor of opening. Students will come if we do. If we don’t, there is the potential for real disaster.

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