The testimonies I collected last week made one thing clear: institutions attempting in-person instruction know they’re going to shut down. They’re just desperately trying to make it past the day when they can refuse requests for a semester refund. Those testimonies — and spiking case numbers, from Illinois State University to University of Alabama — speak truth to the lie that in-person instruction of thousands of undergrads is possible without significant community spread.
Brooklyn and Bailey’s COVID diagnosis does the same, but it also highlights something slightly different. “Brand partnerships,” after all, can’t exist without two brands. And that’s what American higher ed has become: a slew of brands, eager to partner with other brands (aka the contemporary student) who will heighten the visibility and desirability of their institution and the lifestyle they could have there. Community colleges have no compunction about going to online instruction. They know exactly what service they provide: an education, full stop. But public and private colleges and universities, who’ve yoked themselves to the idea of college as a lifestyle experience, have no other choice, even when that lifestyle is a COVID accelerant.
I am so glad that I can be proud and excited about what we do in the Honors College here at Baylor. Otherwise this could be a profoundly discouraging time for me.