• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


And Now, the Second-Order Decisions…

Modifying the plane as it flies.

March 16, 2020

Over the last few days, the coronavirus preparations have become much more urgent. With K-12 systems and public libraries in the area either moving online or closing entirely, we’ve had to recalculate on the fly. Each new K-12 closing means staff, faculty and students who are suddenly tasked with daytime childcare, making it more difficult to remain open. On Sunday, we announced that we’ll move to online delivery when spring break ends.

So now we’re getting to the second-order decisions.

What does that mean for the testing center? We use that not only for classroom tests, but also for placement tests (Accuplacer, TEAS) and various commercial tests.

What does it mean for classes for which a physical presence is usually required? By Sunday afternoon, I already had queries from students in theater and auto tech. I thanked them for asking directly, rather than relying on the rumor mill. (So far, the answer comes from each academic department. I’m not going to tell the auto tech folks what can move online.)

Who gets VPN access at home?

For the few cases in which people need to come to campus this week, when the buildings are otherwise closed, what’s the approval process? What are the criteria?

Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer) tweeted that four-year colleges should immediately announce that, at least for this semester, they will accept classes graded pass/fail for transfer. Historically, they haven’t. But given the speed with which classes have been disrupted, there’s a case to be made that the distinction between a B and a B-minus is particularly shaky this semester. Rather than pretending to a false precision, it might make more sense to make the pass/fail option much more available. If the four-year schools were willing to take pass grades in transfer, we’d defeat one of the most potent objections. I wouldn’t advocate that system across the board, but in the wake of a pandemic, it looks promising. I’ve actually floated the idea to my counterparts across the state; stay tuned.

When folks are working from home, how do we ensure that they’re actually working?

Are there good (low-cost) laptop rental options out there for students? We don’t have the scale to cover it ourselves directly, but if someone were to provide, say, bulk Chromebook rentals at low cost, it could make a real difference. Just sayin’.

Obviously, all of these rest on an underlying uncertainty about the duration of the emergency. I’ll admit that I’m less optimistic than I was last week that this will blow over quickly. Measures that might make perfect sense if we lose a week or two might not make sense if we lose more than that. That’s true from a financial perspective, too; if we have to extend the semester much, we’d crash into the first summer session, which would have major financial implications for us.

All of that said, I’ll admit that I’ve enjoyed having both kids home again. The Boy would much rather be back at college with his friends, and I get that, but it’s still nice having him around. And I enjoyed the brief moment that #GenX was trending on Twitter. As the generation of latchkey kids of divorced parents (check and check), we pretty much invented social distancing. When I mentioned that to The Girl, she asked what a latchkey kid was. I was a little bit glad that she didn’t know.

On the bright side, we’re all getting better at using Zoom. So there’s that …


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