A week-long series, apparently! Here’s the schedule: Today is the Case for On-Campus, Tuesday the Case for Remote, Wednesday is the Requirements for On-Campus, Thursday the Requirements for Remote, and Friday is my conclusion, which has not been written yet because I can’t decide either way.

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This is by no means an all-encompassing list; what did I leave off? Not listed in order of importance.

The educational mission of Williams College is severely compromised if classes are not held on-campus. There’s a lot of reasons why my experiences with online classes were awful–they were unexpected and no one was prepared for it–but that doesn’t change the fact that on-campus classes will always be better than remote classes. This is a purely pedagogical argument–meeting with professors is more difficult and less personal over Zoom, labs are difficult or nonexistent, synchronous learning is all but impossible, group work is hard…the list goes on and on. There is a place in our society for online learning, but the educational environment that Williams has cultivated is ill-suited for this transition and is lessened by it.

The educational mission+ of Williams College is severely compromised if classes are not held on-campus. Williams is so much more than a great educational college, though, and what could ever replace that je ne sais quoi of sidewalk conversations, lab tomfoolery, stressful study sessions in Sawyer Library? Friends for life are made in entries, clubs, sports teams, and partners–sometimes for life–are found on campus (perhaps a little too frequently). Denying students this experience, no matter how different it may be from normal, would be damaging to them. What will the freshman do without entries? Sports teams without locker rooms? Clubs without classrooms to meet in? Williams is a residential college, and residential it should be.

The financial status of Williams (and the people Williams employs) will be severely compromised if classes are not held on-campus. Williams has a hefty endowment, but it still relies on tuition and room and board to run day-to-day operations, and it’s not like the endowment is sitting liquid in a bank account. Hiring has (mostly) been frozen, and decisions not to increase/maintain the size of the faculty can have an impact for a generation. And without students, what will happen to the custodial staff, trade staff, dining staff, etc.? Williams is generous, but it is still a business, and I find it hard to believe that custodians will still be paid if there is nothing to clean, or dining staff if there is no one to feed. Finally, classes less attached to the College as a result of online learning may give less for the rest of their lives, impacting alumni giving and engagement for a generation.

The financial situation of the surrounding community will be severely compromised if classes are not held on-campus. The businesses on Spring Street struggle as it is, not to mention further-flung places like North Adams or Pittsfield. If the thousands of Williams students don’t come back, restaurants will have no one to feed. And what about the renting market? Students, family, etc. get hotel rooms to move in, rent houses on Hoxsey, etc. Without students, Williamstown may just become Williams, as businesses fail and people become jobless.

Existing disparities in education will only widen if classes are not held on-campus. College is supposed to be a great equalizer between people of different backgrounds, and that just can’t happen if it’s online. Some people will suffer greatly if they aren’t in-person; others will not. The people who suffer will be disproportionately low-income and of color.

The virus isn’t that dangerous to the young. Classes can be safely held on campus with relatively minimal intrusion into a normal fall semester. So long as we are intelligent about who has to be super careful and who doesn’t, we can handle it.

Williams can stop the spread of the virus. I will discuss this further on Day 3.

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