Higher ed institutions, being run by the highest educated individuals (generally speaking), are the leaders of a nation in that their decisions and moves are exemplary to the rest of the nation. What I am referring to here is not just research (It is trivial that this line “Study done by Harvard researchers shows that …” is always super impactful.), but also the stance of a higher ed institution about recent news. News’ impact on the public increases when higher ed institutions do something about it.
Let’s think of a very topical example from the COVID-19 pandemic. When the University of Washington (UWA) moved online and took the lead in the online movement of higher ed institutions, it made people realize that something is really happening. It also might have increased the number of people following CDC guidelines about staying home and taking precautions. So far, a vast majority of higher ed institutions went online along with the nonessential business employees who went home office.
Despite all these, there was one college being an outlier: Liberty University. Liberty University, a private college most of the programs of which is online, “welcomed back” students. However, something worse has happened after students start complaining about this decision. Jerry L. Falwell Jr., the President, accused complaints of being “politically driven” and “based on ignorance.” (source). After these, Liberty University alumni started campaigns for the removal of the President – some of them mailed back their Liberty degrees out of shame. On March 25th morning, Falwell stated that most news was nothing but “false report”. He explained that they just have 1900 students, and most of the students are international. Based on this fact and the fact that most programs university is already online, for the most part, he decided to keep the university open. However, I believe that the main reason of the public reaction was not the Liberty University’s decision, but the President’s explanations about people’s overreacting the virus and the virus being a “conspiracy theory” (source).
Regardless of Falwell’s comments, there is one thing that certainly happened: Liberty University is still open. This raised a few questions in my mind: Is this decision a good example to the public? What might possibly happen if major US Higher ed institutions took a similar approach from the very beginning of coronavirus spread?
At this point, I would like to emphasize one point: It is important that Higher Ed institutions do not forget their role of being socially responsible especially during this pandemic.