Students will be on campus in September. The College seeks our help. What are your suggestions? Here are mine:

Schedule

1) Start classes three weeks early. End classes before Thanksgiving, with all exams to be given online. The vast majority of students are forced to go home by November 21. Transmission is more likely in cold weather, with people packed inside.

2) Winter Study has already been cancelled. Start the second semester two weeks later, on Monday February 22. (Drop Claiming Williams Day.) Cancel Spring Break. The less time that students spend in Williamstown during the winter, the better.

3) Lengthen the actual Academic Day. Have lots of classes which start at 8:00 AM, especially sections of the most popular classes. We need to put students and professors in the same rooms. To do that, we need social distancing. To do that, we need to have large classrooms in use all day long.

Food

1) Open Greylock Dining Hall. The most dangerous location for CV-19 transmission are the dining halls. We need to minimize crowding. Reopening Greylock Dining Hall is the best first step. In fact, this should have happened a decade ago, given the over-crowding in other dining halls.

2) Extend all dining hall hours. The more students who eat at 4:00 and at 8:00, the less crowded the dining halls will be at 6:00 PM.

3) Work with Williamstown to close off the top (and bottom?) of Spring Street, allowing restaurants to set up tables in the street, at least through October. The more meals that are eaten outside, the less CV-19 transmission.

4) Give students vouchers to eat meals on Spring Street, but for outside service only.

5) Provide grab-and-go options at all meals.

6) Provide cookouts every lunch and dinner, weather permitting.

7) Set up the reunion tents to encourage outside eating, even in bad weather.

Classes

1) Cancel sabbaticals and most other teaching leaves. Require professors in administrative positions to teach. All hands on deck. We want to turn as many 20 person classes into 10 person classes as we can. Smaller groupings means less transmission. No more lectures!

2) Make it easy to hold classes outside. Although there is still much uncertainty with CV-19, one of the main findings is that outdoors transmission is very, very rare. So, let’s keep people outside as much as we can! That won’t be possible all the time. But, with enough tables, chairs and awnings spread around the campus, we could have lots of outside meetings. The vast majority of tutorials should, weather permitting, meet outside.

Make the Hard Decisions

Does Maud have the stomach to make the hard decisions? I hope so. Here are two:

1) Require students to be on campus. If, for whatever reasons — health, visa, family obligations — a student can’t be in Williamstown, then that students needs to withdraw for the semester. abl argues that this is not possible:

This [offering classes to students not on campus], too, is ‘industry’ standard. I’m curious if this might actually be required by the ADA or some other statute (streamed remote classes probably represent reasonable accommodations). Regardless, pretty much everyone is thinking along these lines, whether out of a sense of legal obligation or just basic compassion for immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable students.

a) This is, obviously, not required by ADA. If it were, then Williams would have to do it all the time. The ADA applies even if there is no global pandemic.

b) “Basic compassion” is nonsense talk since this situation has happened, to at least a handful of students, each semester since forever. Tragedy strikes someone each year, most commonly in the form of a health emergency or parental death. If it happens before the semester starts, then Williams is compassionate, but it still requires the student to take a semester off, to go back home.

c) The only way to meet this requirement is to offer essentially every class over Zoom. There is no other way to offer a class for students who are, for whatever reason, stuck in Houston or Shanghai. Such a scenario, while necessary this past spring, will not be necessary in September. We need Mark Hopkins and the Log.

2) Require faculty to teach in person. We discussed this a bit last week.

a) From a moral point of view, it would be disgusting for Williams to require a 55 year-old cafeteria worker or janitor to come to campus and be near students to keep her job while, simultaneously, allowing a 55 year-old faculty member to Zoom it in.

b) Isn’t this legally suspect as well? Williams has two options. Either campus is safe enough, all workers are expected to report for duty or lose their jobs. Or, campus is dangerous and employees do not have to come to campus. It can’t say that campus is too dangerous for Denise Buell but not too dangerous for the check-in person at Driscoll.

c) Mark Hopkins and the Log, not Mark Hopkins and the Zoom, is a central component of the Williams identity and the Williams experience.

d) Of course, in extremis, accommodations are possible.

Yet Williams students and faculty should be on campus. They will all be socially distanced. They will all be wearing masks. They should all be outside as much as possible. But they will be together, teaching and learning. If Maud Mandel does not have the heart to see how necessary that is, and the intestinal fortitude to make it happen, then she is not the Williams president we need right now.

UPDATE: abl clarifies his views below.

David: How much time is being wasted by the continuing delusion that students might not be on campus in the fall? They will be. Why pretend otherwise?

abl: There is a real (5%? 15%?) chance that students will not be on campus in the fall. It would be irresponsible for Williams not to plan for that possibility. It’s worth noting that every decently resourced school (and, I would imagine, the overwhelming majority of all schools full stop) is similarly coming up with contingency plans for this possibility.

David: This seems very weird to me. Are other colleges doing this? Mine isn’t.

abl: Yes, many other colleges (most?) have given or are preparing to give faculty the option of teaching remotely in the event that the school is in person. I would be very surprised if yours (Harvard) isn’t as well, at least for tenured/tenure-track faculty members. It’s hard for me to imagine that many schools will require their tenured faculty to literally put themselves in harms way to teach in person in the midst of a pandemic.

David: It seems like madness to insist on a system in which students can take (some? any?) classes remotely.

abl: This, too, is ‘industry’ standard. I’m curious if this might actually be required by the ADA or some other statute (streamed remote classes probably represent reasonable accommodations). Regardless, pretty much everyone is thinking along these lines, whether out of a sense of legal obligation or just basic compassion for immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable students.

Facebooktwitter
Print  •  Email