• 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.


Two Decisions

Fall plans for The Boy and The Girl.

August 10, 2020

As regular readers know, The Boy will start his sophomore year of college at UVA in a few weeks. The Girl will start her junior year of high school in a few weeks.

Both of those require more thought than they normally would.

For him, we found out (shortly after paying the semester bill for the fall) that all of his classes will be fully online for the semester. But we already signed a lease on an off-campus apartment in the Before Time, and there's no "pandemic clause" in the lease to get out of it. If we were to break the lease and things got more under control for the spring, he'd have to find someplace to live at the drop of a hat, along with thousands of other students. I'll admit being annoyed at being dinged for out-of-state tuition for online classes -- my own college doesn't do that, and some reciprocity would be nice -- but there it is. Score one for New Jersey hospitality.

He knows, of course, that the classes will be online. He also knows about social distancing and contagion. He's an EMT by training, and that&39;s his summer job; he knows that life off campus will be very different from what he, and we, were expecting when we signed the lease. (Robert Kelchen described campus life this fall as probably being "somewhere between a monastery and a minimum security prison." Speaking as the father of two teenagers, I suspect it will be a bit more porous than that.)

But he also knows that he has had quite enough of living with Mom and Dad, thank you very much. He's civil about it, but he wants out. I don't blame him; at his age, I was the same way. He comes by it honestly. And he, and we, know that if things get really bad, he can always come home. Score another for New Jersey hospitality. So with a parachute at the ready, he's off to Charlottesville next week, even though there's really no academic reason for him to go.

For The Girl, living at home is a given. The question for her is whether to show up to high school on the days that she has the option, or to take everything online. Right now, all three of us are leaning hard toward the fully online option. Her school is enormous -- I've been in airports smaller than her high school -- and the class-change periods are intense. It's already crowded enough that most of the band kids eat lunch in the band room, because the cafeteria is too full. Worse, as of August 9, we still haven't heard what the official plan for returning for the fall actually is. I've heard rumors of splitting the groups in half, with one half showing up on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other showing up on Thursdays and Fridays, but we don't actually know that. Nor do we know which of her friends would be in which group, as she likes to remind us.

As an academic administrator, I appreciate the dilemmas the high school is facing. They had already announced last year that there wouldn't be any busing this year, due to a draconian and deeply stupid funding cut from the state announced before the pandemic hit. Any hope for a reprieve for the buses was lost when social distancing became the order of the day. But that leads to other issues. The district is physically large, and students come from multiple districts. (It's complicated, but suffice it to say that students may live in any of six different towns and attend her school.) That means long lines of cars doing dropoffs in the morning, and I don't even want to think about dismissal. And yes, the high school is on a busy street, so the backups should have impressive and unwelcome ripple effects.

Part of what made attendance appealing, for her, was band. But you don't really want a wind section during a pandemic with an airborne virus. You can't really play trumpet through a mask. (I'm sure someone will, but still.) So this fall, The Boy will be in his apartment, taking classes online; The Girl will be here in her room, taking classes online; I will be here in various rooms, doing my job (mostly) online; and TW will commute unless/until her company changes its mind.

I just couldn't justify sitting in a long line of cars to drop TG off into what could easily become a hotbed of contagion, when she could be at home, contentedly and safely doing her thing. We're lucky: she thrived in the online setting this spring, and she's sophisticated enough to make it work for her. Her friend group pretty much lives online. She also doesn't have any special needs that require specialized help. If anyone was built for these times, she was. That makes the choice infinitely easier.

On an ethical level, I can say with a straight face that I'm treating other people's kids like my own; every Brookdale class that can be taught via internet, will be. So there's that. And the college students and employees who have school-aged kids will generally be able to be home with (or for) them, which helps.

Still, even with a run of good luck, this is a lot less fun that it should be. TB should be looking forward to reconnecting with his friends, working closely with professors in labs and painting the town red. G should be looking forward to playing with the band at football games on Friday nights, and picking our first colleges to tour.

In the grand scheme of things, these are small sacrifices. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.


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