A satiric take on campus COVID policies (opinion)

From the Office of the President, South Tennessee State College

Dear members of the college community,

I know that some of you are unhappy with my decision not to put in place a mandate for indoor mask wearing, regular COVID testing or vaccines at South Tennessee State. This decision, I assure you, was made after considerable thought and extensive consultation with several people I know. It is a reflection of my belief that the choice to receive a vaccine or wear a mask is a deeply personal one, best left to each member of our community, and that arguments about mandates should be avoided because, in the words of Georgia governor Brian Kemp, they “are causing people’s blood pressure to go up,” and the last thing we would want to do is endanger the health of anyone on campus.

Please know that we take the current pandemic seriously. We have acquired 60,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, several dozen COVID tests and enough masks for everyone on campus to wear one, in the event that they choose to do so. To quote another leader, Teresa MacCartney, acting chancellor of the University System of Georgia, “Everyone has the ability to get vaccinated. Everybody has the ability to wear a mask.” Whether they choose to take advantage of that ability is a matter beyond our concern or control.

Some have complained that our pandemic-related policies are inconsistent with other long-standing, freedom-restricting policies on campus, and I want to assure you that your voices have been heard. Effective immediately, therefore, I am making the following changes to campus guidelines and offices.

Smoking will now be allowed in all campus residence halls and classroom buildings. I hope that people will not smoke in those spaces, and I myself will not do so. But the decision to smoke and to assume the risks of smoking is, in the end, a deeply personal one, and it seems inappropriate to mandate that members of our community not smoke when and where they choose.

Driving while intoxicated on campus roads will be frowned upon but not cause for disciplinary action. Everyone on the campus has the ability not to drink and drive, and I hope they will take advantage of that ability. But really, once we have made that opportunity available, what more can we do?

The Debate Club is hereby officially disbanded. Nothing gets the blood pressure up more quickly than a heated argument, and what is debate, after all, but groups and individuals arguing with one another? Let’s all just calm down and stop worrying about whether or not we agree. Classroom debates and discussions of controversial topics, while not entirely prohibited, are discouraged. Faculty members should include on their syllabi as many subjects as possible about which everyone agrees.

The Title IX office will be converted to a combined coffee bar and workout room. We will continue to conduct rigorous education on the subjects of sexual harassment and sexual violence, and everyone on campus will have the ability not to engage in such behaviors, but since we are not formally prohibiting community members from engaging in some activities that harm others, it seems wrong to single out this area for any sort of mandate. As for federal regulations, well, we at South Tennessee State will not have our lives controlled by people in Washington, D.C.

Testing in classes may continue, but no tests may be required of students in any course. Forcing students to take an examination, or indeed to follow any rules in order to complete a course, is a patent violation of the individual liberties guaranteed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. All of us -- assuming we are American -- are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and I’m guessing that most of our students would pursue their happiness right out the door every time a test is given. It would be unpatriotic to restrict their freedom to say “no, thanks.” Plus, there’s that blood pressure thing again: nothing gets it going like a second-semester calculus exam.

Faculty members are required to teach all classes in person, regardless of personal circumstances or preferences or the prevalence of cases of COVID-19 on campus. While that might seem to be a restriction on individual freedom, we can, I think, all agree that we must draw the line somewhere.

I hope that these changes will mollify those who are concerned about the consistency of our policies and our respect for individual liberty. While we at South Tennessee State hope that people will not smoke in buildings, drink and drive, commit sexual assault, or skip exams, we don’t consider it our role to play Big Brother and tell them what to do.

And remember: we’re all in this together. Go Big Green!

Your president

Brian Rosenberg is president emeritus at Macalester College and president in residence at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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A presidential spouse explores how to retire successfully, citing his wife as an example (opinion)

Only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, longtime presidential spouse Mort Maimon holds up his wife’s approach to retirement as a model for a new contest.

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Imagining a look back at where higher education is now (opinion)

Today, Feb. 20, 2036, is my granddaughter Sofia’s 15th birthday. Born during the COVID-19 crisis that upturned our world in more than one way, she lives in Melbourne, while I am based in Berlin. Since she is about to finish high school this year, I invite her to join me on a virtual visit of the Museum of 20th-Century Universities to celebrate her special day.

I pull on my iGlasses and jump into my favorite museum metaverse app. We meet in the lobby of the virtual museum. VR technology has improved so much, it feels like we are actually in the same room. My granddaughter’s avatar is young Marie Curie, the only female scientist to ever win the Nobel Prize twice, with the gaunt look of the famished student who would faint because she was too absorbed in study to eat. Mine looks like Einstein when he taught at Princeton, with the iconic wild, bushy hair.

The Museum

The museum was designed and coded by a community of artists, educators and historians who wanted to recreate the experience of traditional universities as they operated in the past. It provides a memorial to connect and share with others from all over the world in VR. The virtual museum contains a cross section of the types of buildings that hosted universities and the main activities that went on inside them until the turn of the century.

Together we can discover what this space meant to our parents, who did not have other options for studying and expanding their intellectual horizons than confining themselves in these castles of knowledge and towers of learning for several consecutive years. Welcome to this immersive historical showcase. Step into a classroom or a library and surround yourself with the sounds and experience of a student cafeteria or dormitory, as if you were right there and then.

We start with the Grand Lecture Hall, an impressive amphitheater that can seat 800 people. An older white male professor is droning on for a full hour to an audience of bored and distracted students. We move quickly to the next room, a large library full of paper books and journals that students pore over for hours at their individual reading desks. In the faculty building are rows of offices where the professors write articles behind closed doors, well hidden from the students.

Next, we enter the Gallery of Numbers. I explain to Sofia how everything had to be counted, measured and ranked in the old days. What’s your gaokao or SAT score? How high is your GPA? How did you perform at the math Olympics or the Grande École entrance competition? What is the H-index of your professor? How many places did your university gain in the global, national and specialized rankings? She might find it hard to believe that universities did not select students on the basis of their life project or academic passions but focused on dissected high school grades and valued test scores.

We now switch to the Pavilion of Exclusion, a sobering monument to the stark inequalities that characterized many institutions back then. We see universities for whites only, by law, design or circumstance; science and technology institutes with hardly any women; colleges without Indigenous or special needs students.

In a 3-D replica of Room 104 in Carnegie Hall at the University of Oklahoma in 1948, we see George McLaurin, the sole African American student on a campus of 12,174. He is sitting in a closet, the spot he was forced to occupy, separate from his white peers, after winning a legal battle to get admitted. We learn about Ivy League institutions with legacy admission practices favoring the sons of rich businessmen who made a big donation to their alma mater at the same time that affirmative action was disparaged and legally challenged for giving unfair advantage to minority students.

Next comes the Building of Disciplines. All specializations are on display, from philology to finance to deep ocean technology. We can but wonder at the artificial distinction between the humanities and the sciences, observing how faculties and schools operated as silos within universities, and how the knowledge offered to students reflected the cultural biases of dominant nations and was completely out of step with the complex nature of real-life challenges and the multidisciplinary competencies needed to address them.

We hear speeches of politicians arguing for increased funding for science and technology courses at the expense of the social sciences, sometimes defending the elimination of foreign language and the humanities. Sofia frowns when she sees that everyone more or less followed a uniform set of courses toward the same degree, as if people learned at an equal pace and in a similar manner. “Imagine that they received dated degrees,” she exclaims, “instead of progressively building a blockchain qualifications portfolio throughout their working life!”

In the Pandemic Gazebo, we are reminded how the COVID-19 crisis triggered the coming of age of online education. Within a few weeks, sometimes only days, what was almost a hobby practiced by a few innovative instructors -- often regarded as eccentric and less professional by their more traditional colleagues -- became a mainstream platform for teaching and learning at universities worldwide, with extensive sharing of open educational resources. Sofia asks me, “Where are the students’ personal AI tutors?”

We finish with the Examinations Chamber. My granddaughter cannot stop gasping as we float through the holograms of anxious students immersed in writing high-stakes competitive finals, under the vigilant watch of stern proctors ensuring that no knowledge sharing or cooperative work takes place. How different from today’s open-internet, continuous, collaborative and interactive assessment sessions!

As we are about to leave the museum, my granddaughter’s avatar shakes her head and comments, “Seriously! Can you imagine that these people were restricted to studying at a single university at a time, instead of seamless cross-learning from multiple knowledge providers over their lifetime?”

“I feel so lucky,” Sofia says, “to live in this age of flexible and open education!"

Jamil Salmi is a global tertiary education expert providing policy advice and consulting services to governments, universities, professional associations, multilateral development banks and bilateral cooperation agencies. A shorter version of this article was originally published in The Future of Universities Thoughtbook: Universities During Times of Crisis (University Industry Innovation Network).

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A satiric look at how faculty and administrators can realize failure on a grand scale (opinion)

More than 50 years ago, Jay Haley wrote an essay entitled “The Art of Being a Failure as a Therapist,” which cataloged the many and varied steps a clinician could take to assure a complete lack of success in work with clients. This essay has been applied directly to leadership and administrative breakdowns in the realm of psychiatry by Stewart A. Shevitz in 2000 and later harnessed by one of us, Stephen M. Gavazzi, in 2013 to describe suboptimal responses to the challenges surrounding academic discipline mergers within higher education.

In every one of those works, the authors were most interested in depicting dysfunction and breakdown rather than in describing success. Haley wrote that “too much emphasis has been placed upon how to succeed as a therapist, and too little has been written about how to fail.”

Similarly, we believe that way too much ink has been spilled by writers attempting to explain how higher education will thrive in the time of coronavirus. Most of the articles insist on articulating some new way of conducting business within the university. Hence, it is our intention to illustrate the path that administrators and faculty members alike can take to guarantee the failure of their university. And the path toward failure is this: choose to operate in a business as usual fashion and be dismissive of changes taking place around you in your own domains -- e.g., teaching, learning, discovery -- and the world that both supports and enables your important work.

To be abundantly clear, our contention is not that failure is the inevitable path, only the easier one. We are not advocating for failure, only showing that it is possible -- through specific actions and inactions -- to ensure that it does happen. And we are neither issuing a warning nor offering any solution, only observing that a path can be found to certain failure.

In this way, we hope to shed some light on positions and perspectives that may hasten failure, while inspiring conversations that may lead to another eventuality. We wrote the following with tongues firmly in our cheeks but with eyes wide-open and looking carefully at where we in higher education are presently and where we need to go.

Borrowing liberally from Haley, we offer eight steps that faculty members and administrators can take to realize failure on a grand scale. We appropriate these steps verbatim, yet we have both a different target -- academe instead of therapy -- and reside within a very different period of history.

  1. Dismiss the presenting problem as unimportant. Faculty members should foil all attempts to discuss the complexities of operating a university, especially during a pandemic. Instead, they should continue to insist that financial issues are simply a matter of reallocating resources away from administrative activities and toward teaching efforts. In turn, administrators should dismiss faculty members’ input as unconstructive, uninformed and unnecessary.
  2. Refuse to directly treat the presenting problem. Faculty members should redirect all conversations back to their compensation and workload. At the end of the day, personal success and job security are all that matters. Administrators should throw the faculty some decision-making bones -- for example, allowing them to make a simple decision to extend the reading period one extra day -- to keep them distracted and lead them to believe they have some agency. After all, faculty are low-status occupants in the university hierarchy, despite what they think about themselves.
  3. Use labels that defy translation into therapeutic approaches. Faculty members should stay on message that the corporate mentality prohibits administrators from caring about people -- or, even better yet, incentivizes them not to care. After all, administrators fail to respect or recognize the true purpose of a university, which is to provide a liberal arts education. Administrators also believe that running a university has nothing to do with caring about or healing people. In addition, everyone knows that faculty members are lazy, self-absorbed, selfish, self-righteous and not interested in real engagement, functional relationships or the greater good of the university.
  4. Put the emphasis on a single approach, no matter how diverse the problem. Faculty members should remain committed to a single message: cut administration, cut everywhere except instruction and put that money toward teaching. We, the faculty, are the heart of the university, and there is no reason to invest in any other part. In turn, administrators should balance the budget quickly, regardless of who gets in the way or who gets kicked off the island. It is extremely important to see every problem as a nail -- and the solution always as a hammer.
  5. Repeat the past. Faculty members should intentionally and demonstrably outwait the administration. If that proves to be uncomfortable, then loudly and consistently call for a change in leadership. Administrators should continue to cut everyone incrementally across the board. If that proves to be uncomfortable, cut deeper. Rinse and repeat as needed.
  6. Only long-term treatments work. First, faculty members must make certain those who are tenured are secure through retirement. Then, and only then, should they engage in conversations about needed changes. Administrators should stick with their five-year strategic plan and not be distracted by current events, internal or external. After all, the plane is still in the air, so there is little need to worry about the glide path or the rate at which the ground is approaching from below.
  7. Ignore reality. The faculty should insist that budget realities -- the need to balance revenues and expenses -- are irrelevant to the future of a great university. All that matters is that we continue to provide a great liberal arts education and are permitted to conduct our scholarship without impediment and with abundant resources. After all, the 20th century provided us with a great blueprint for our future. Administrators should pay little to no attention to the rising masses of students, faculty and staff members who voice opposition to their plans. Instead, all efforts and resources should focus on improving the institution’s U.S. News & World Report rankings.
  8. Beware of the poor. Faculty members should ignore the needs of lower-income students, including their demand for the most efficient path toward graduation. Those students’ sacrifice of their future is a necessary evil for bathing in the light of our presence -- and keeping the current workload acceptable to us. Administrators should be complicit in this, because lower-income students drag down retention and graduation rates as well as inflate financial aid obligations. All of this is anathema to the national rankings, of course, but so be it.

Beyond the Steps: The Five B’s

Haley ends his article by proffering a motto he labels “The Five B’s Which Guarantee Dynamic Failure” and suggests that it be placed on the wall of every institution that provides training to therapists. Again, we appropriate the labels of the five B’s in verbatim fashion, but advance a somewhat different agenda because of our academic setting.

  1. Be passive. Wait. Wait until all voices of dissent about paths forward have stymied any sort of consensus building. Wait as well for the ensuing silence that comes from exhaustion over the arguments. Wait until the most timid or manipulative faculty member or administrator is finally comfortable with whatever the plan is. Instead of building social capital with all the different parties involved in the university -- faculty members, staff members, administrators, undergraduates and graduate students -- wait some more. The crisis will pass eventually, and you can’t be held accountable for doing nothing. Which leads us to the next point …
  2. Be inactive. Run no experiments in the changed environment, and whatever you do, make sure that there are no opportunities to learn how to relate to what is very likely to be a different world once the crisis is past. Just like a limpet clinging to a rock, remember that the tide may go out, but it always comes back in, and when it does, you won’t be high and dry any more. You’ll be hanging onto your rock, just like you were before the crisis. Others may evolve and change, but you will not. And who needs the risk of finding new partners with whom to navigate the current crisis, anyway? Those hospitals that may need help finding ways to deal with COVID -- everyone knows that they’re just hotbeds of litigation that could damage your reputation. And in the process of being inactive, advocate that others are, as well. You don’t need them showing you up. Be strident in your inactivity. Remember to hold your head high as you do nothing; others certainly will be doing so.
  3. Be reflective. If you can’t get out of doing something, then always copy someone else, even if their circumstances are far different from your own. Those expensive universities with the multibillion-dollar endowments? It’s true that’s not your circumstance, but you’d like it to be. So, as the old adage goes, “Fake it until you make it.” Just make sure you’re cooking the books at the same time you follow this path. You’ll have time to recoup this money after this whole thing is over. And you certainly don’t need anyone from the outside interfering in your business. Whoever made their boss mad by giving money to Harvard University? Shouldn’t it also extend to mirroring -- who ever made their boss mad by doing exactly what Harvard did?
  4. Be silent. Everyone knows that the nail that sticks up is always the first one to get hammered down. Learn from that simple lesson. Be silent. And whatever you do, don’t ask anyone for advice who you think might actually give it. Only talk to people who follow the other old adage, “Ask for advice, get money; ask for money, get advice.” Talk is cheap, and what could you possibly learn from other people through talking about your problems? Every good dysfunctional family knows that we are all the sum of our secrets, and it is most important to keep those inside the family. Isn’t the Mafia, with their code of omertà, one of the longest-lasting and most successful social organizations in the world?
  5. Beware. Never forget: in a crisis, you have no friends. There is no solidarity, only the law of the jungle. That’s how institutions of higher ed evolved, didn’t they? We all know that every administrator and full professor has a copy of Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War on their bookshelf that you can see during those endless Zoom meetings you’re forced to attend. Worse, they might have actually read those books. If there’s a risk with a downside, don’t be looking around the room for potential collaborators to share that downside with. As the old story goes, you can find a fall guy in every room. And if you can’t see one, then it’s time to get out that old pocket mirror. Or get out of the room.

That rules out, once again, any experimentation. Odds are likely that the only reason anyone is suggesting change is because they’re really just trying to stack the deck on who’s next to go under the bus. And even though you’ve been under the bus and realize you’ll likely pass under it -- buses are higher than cars with road clearance, especially school buses -- you’re still aching from those muffler burns you got from the last time you took that asphalt-scented trip. So beware. Hold on to that rock. There really is no such thing as change. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” And after all, isn’t that why, whether you are a faculty member or an administrator, they gave you tenure?


We have painted a harsh reality here. We’ve probably ruffled more than a few feathers while perhaps gaining a few chuckles. Between us three authors, we have almost a century of experience in academe. We recognize ourselves in this writing just as quickly as we recognize the colleagues we have known and worked with over the years. We wrote this piece exactly because we wish for our universities to succeed, not to fail.

Suffice it to say that we have been alarmed by the all-too-slow pace of change taking place in the academic realm right now. We have met the enemy, and it is us. It is time to regroup, reconnoiter the landscape and move forward together as fellow university citizens. All for one, and one for all.

Stephen M. Gavazzi is professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University and former dean of Ohio State Mansfield. David V. Rosowsky is professor of civil engineering at the University of Vermont and former provost and senior vice president there. Chuck Pezeshki is professor of mechanical engineering and director of the industrial design clinic and former Faculty Senate president at Washington State University.

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Colleges send holiday greetings

Colleges send their best wishes -- and hopes for a (much) better 2021.

A facetious look at different ways of offering courses this fall (opinion)

The tireless and very nervous administrative staff at U of All People have put their heads together (virtually) and come up with the following plans for instruction during these difficult, challenging, unprecedented, uncertain and financially unremunerative times.

Face-2-Face: Live “volunteered” students on the campus, kind of distanced in classrooms with no windows. Shielded indirect lighting. HFSA ventilation system that amplifies white noise. Masks required at all times except for respiration. No touching but surreptitiously passed notes are OK. Instructors are self-congratulatory types who see themselves as heroes, those who missed the cutoff for fall opt-outs or people who don’t believe the virus exists.

Face/No Face: Combination of live and online teaching spitballed by remote administrators to regain lost revenue. Teachers address live, huddled-apart students while frantically eyeballing the rest of the class via thumbnail views on laptop. Live students must wear masks and are discouraged from nosers or neck-warmer styles. Online students must be at least half-attentive since they will form the next live group, when the formerly live group retreats to online or astral projection. Instructors are multitaskers used to driving while texting.

Face/No Face Alt: Another combination of live and online teaching, to demonstrate the illusion of choice. Five-minute quarantine chambers before class and Clorox showers afterward. In front of classroom, equal-time use of 3-D holograms in place of physical beings. Once again, half the students will be online, but each assigned a nickname and a cute avatar. Magic tricks to stimulate student interest, including a rabbit emerging from an N95 mask. Instructors may have worked onstage or in the circus.

Online Live: Instructors Zoom with classes after staging dining rooms as home offices with walls of books. Entrance and exit of amusing household pets and small children encouraged, at least one appearance per session. Lecture videos that freeze, interrupted class convo, virtual whiteboard by an instructor inept with a touchpad and breakout rooms that reveal only three students in attendance. Live chat among students who think no one else can read what they write. Instructors may not be wearing anything below the waist.

Online Lag: Uploaded materials and questions not relevant until next month; student posts revealing they missed a month. Discussion board that resembles divergent Twitter threads. Quizzes that test who can google the fastest. Best for truly motivated learners who, in an earlier era, would absorb all they needed from the town library. Instructors record themselves pronouncing all they have to say on the subject, then do the same for family and other obligations.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University, not, thankfully, at U of All People. His latest book is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press.

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A poem for the pandemic in Dr. Seuss style (opinion)

Bonnie Gordon pens a poem about the pandemic in his style.

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A satiric look at implicit bias training for white faculty members (opinion)

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt pens a satirical memo.

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A satirical look at the question of genetic inferiority (opinion)

After white police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, many of my students contacted me to ask questions -- many of which were difficult for me to respond to. Here’s one: “Why do white people keep oppressing black people?” Here’s another: “Why are so many white people so racist?” Here’s a third: “Why do white people keep killing black people?”

It’s difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all response to such broad inquiries as these. So my approach is to ask students first to share with me how they would answer their own question, and then, to broaden their perspective, I share with them possibilities they have not considered.

When it comes to this question about white oppression, I have noticed a peculiar pattern. Although many students have thoughtful answers, not one student I have ever taught has brought up the possibility that white people are genetically inferior, and that white violence against black people is a function of this subnormal genetic inheritance.

My students’ blind spot is troubling. It’s also made me more sympathetic to recent criticisms about a lack of “viewpoint diversity” in institutions of higher education. These critics have argued that colleges only expose students to a narrow range of ideological perspectives, inhibiting their growth and development and also stifling the free exchange of ideas. In order to address this issue, I propose that we expose students to an argument far outside the mainstream: that white people are genetically deficient.

Here’s an example of what this argument might look like. Many professors report that their white students tend to struggle to understand the concept of structural racism, while their students of color tend to “get it” more easily. Might genetics help explain this white achievement gap?

Perhaps genetic limitations could also help us understand why many whites in rural areas such as Appalachia are poor, or why so many whites are addicted to opioids, or why whites disproportionately suffer from such diseases as autism and breast cancer. There are so many areas of white disadvantage to investigate!

Some people might say college professors shouldn’t teach such an argument to students, basing this argument on the fact that race is a social and political construction rather than a biological reality. To this I reply: I certainly do not endorse the claim that white people are genetically inferior. I’m just saying that white students should be exposed to this claim, in service of the noble goal of ideological diversity on campus.

If white students spend their whole lives in a bubble, only interacting with like-minded people, how will they even be able to process, let alone respond to, articles such as the one on the Fox News website with the headline “Whites Genetically Weaker Than Blacks, Study Finds”? Even if race has nothing to do with genetics in reality, don’t white students still need to be introduced to this perspective? Doesn’t critical thinking require white students to engage with arguments that make them feel uncomfortable?

My proposal is likely to prove controversial. Many white students, in particular, would probably react unfavorably to the claim that they are inherently flawed. Some might get emotional, feel “triggered” and even go so far as to express their views by protesting, which would have a chilling effect on free speech. We would have to encourage these white students to lighten up, to toughen up -- indeed, to grow up.

Or perhaps we could cushion the blow, reminding our white students that as of yet there is scant scientific evidence that white people are genetically inferior. We might tell them to consider other explanations for whites’ disadvantages: their cultural pathologies, for example.

I also recommend sending inspiring messages to our white students, telling them that they should not be defined by negative stereotypes about them. We could try to make sure our white students know that we have high standards for them -- that as their professors, we fully reject claims that they are biologically inferior. Furthermore, to avoid the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” we should inform our white students in no uncertain terms that they are obligated to perform just as well in our classes as they would if they were students of color.

Another problem with my modest proposal is that once we begin teaching about white genetic inferiority, it might be hard to stop. A wide range of questions would arise: Does genetics help explain centuries of white violence beyond recent police killings -- from chattel slavery, genocide of indigenous peoples and colonization to mass shootings in the present day? Does genetics help explain whites’ historic and continued dependency on extracted and hoarded wealth?

Meanwhile, students of color would surround our faculty offices, clamoring for attention: “Please, don’t forget us -- we also deserve to be taught about our inferiority.” But I, for one, am not too worried. We already do a pretty good job of that.

Spencer Piston is assistant professor of political science at Boston University and the author of Class Attitudes in America (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

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A satiric survey for assessing a virtual commencement (opinion)

A Virtual Commencement Survey

1. Did the ceremony start on time?

A. Yes, but our time zone made it 4 a.m.

B. Not sure, since we just watched the recording.

C. What’s time these days?

2. Did your family attend?

A. We showed up at the Activities Hall, but it was locked.

B. As many as we could fit in front of the webcam.

C. No, we’ve had a little too much together time by now.

3. What did you think of the commencement speaker?

A. I left to make myself lunch at that point.

B. She forgot to unmute her microphone.

C. The “What’s happiness if you haven’t got your health?” topic was a downer.

4. Were you happy with the ceremony, over all?

A. Virtually.

B. I guess I’m sort of happy we didn’t have to drive in from out of state.

C. I would’ve been happy with anything.

5. Were you given enough time on the virtual platform?

A. Maybe. I left to get myself a snack.

B. My video wasn’t working.

C. Yes, but my image got lost against the blown-up background of the school mascot.

6. Did your favorite faculty members “show up”?

A. I could see their set Zoom frames, but when I typed chat messages to them, they weren’t there.

B. Yes, but professors should know by now that a webcam reveals the smallest gesture.

C. No, they said they had other Zoom meetings to attend.

7. Is there any part of the ceremony you would omit?

A. The virtual processional was a bad idea.

B. The clap-hands emojis took forever.

C. I had nothing else to do that day, anyway.

8. Would you have preferred a hybrid ceremony instead of a virtual one?

A. Provided the social distancing didn’t take place in the Activities Hall.

B. Only if we could still click to download our diplomas.

C. Yes, to stop my parents screaming about not getting their money’s worth.

9. Did you post a clip of elbow bumping the chancellor on Instagram?

A. No, it required too much editing.

B. I used TikTok.

C. The university said it owned the rights and would charge me $75.

10. Did the school contact you to donate funds as a new alum?

A. It was already in my email inbox when the ceremony began.

B. Via text, FaceTime and Google Hangouts.

C. You had to click on “Donate” before downloading your diploma.


What do you intend to do with your degree?

A. Good question.

B. Become virtually unemployed.

C. Dad says I can stay in the spare room for a few more months.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press.

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