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!

Will other colleges reopen?

Yes, many (most?) will.

It was easy for elite colleges to close in March. All of them were doing it, so there was no (immediate) penalty for doing so, and a real risk associated with not doing it. But September will be different because the recession (depression?) will start to bite. Even fancy NESCAC schools like Bates and Connecticut College are not that wealthy, with a per-student endowment only about 1/8th of ours. They need tuition dollars or things get ugly fast. The same is even more true for the hundreds of liberal arts colleges in the tier below NESCAC. If there is a good chance that too many students would take a gap year if confronted with a virtual-only experience, they have no choice but to open their campuses, subject to local laws and regulation.

And this is all the more so for isolated colleges in rural locations. They can institute and enforce much more serious social distancing and other rules than their city counterparts. Will those policies be successful? Who knows? But the assumption/possibility that such policies will work allows institutional leadership to do what needs doing anyway.

Contrary opinions?

This is the second reason why Williams should open: most other rural liberal arts colleges will.

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