As I was researching on this week’s blog post prompt, one of the discussion themes that popped up, again and again, is that – “will the pandemic change American universities the way we know them?” In this post, I would like to share a very interesting article by Prof. Ian Bogost – a distinguished chair in media studies and a professor of interactive computing at Georgia Tech, that I found.
In this article, the author first provides a brief history of American universities. He then discusses how the pandemic threatened what it means with an underlying argument that they are not built for education: they are built for the “coming of age” and college experience. Eventually, the article starts questioning whom to blame for rising COVID-19 cases in university towns and communities and then reveals a more complicated dynamic between universities, ordinary people, and policymakers. Some of the points that hit the spot for me are below
- American colleges and universities have always sought isolation rather than integration.
- How the entire structure of American family life became oriented towards college and how universities evolved from a rite of passage into the prestige of the upper-middle class to an aspiration for the middle-class.
- How the college experience soon became a prison experience for students returning to campuses during the fall semester.
- How people objected to the “do not party” stand of few universities as a threat to the college experience and how policymakers tried to introduce a college-student bill of rights to protect students from those “Draconian” measures.
- A fantastic point – “Students acted recklessly toward the virus not because they are necessarily careless or juvenile, but because college promises them a place apart, where ordinary rules don’t apply.”
- Finally, this satisfying concluding paragraph where the author disagrees with others in the field that speculate that the pandemic will kill American universities the way we know it.
“The pandemic has made college frail, but it has strengthened Americans’ awareness of their attachment to the college experience. It has shown the whole nation, all at once, how invested they are in going away to school or dreaming about doing so. Facing that revelation might be the most important outcome of the pandemic for higher ed: An education may take place at college, but that’s not what colleges principally provide. Higher education survived a civil war, two world wars, the Great Depression, and the 1918 Spanish flu, the worst pandemic the U.S. has ever faced. American colleges will outlast this crisis, too, whether or not they are safe, whether or not they are affordable, and whether or not you or your children actually attend them. The pandemic offered an invitation to construe college as an education alone, because it was too dangerous to embrace it as an experience. Nobody was interested. They probably never will be.”
I agree with all the points that the author has raised in this post. What do you think?