Coronavirus

Some Tentative Suggestions for Safely Restarting In-Person Teaching at Universities

In-person teaching has major advantages over the online version. Here are some ways to restore it, while mitigating risk.

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Universities around the country are pondering the question of whether and how to resume in-person teaching during the upcoming fall 2020 semester. In-person instruction has major advantages over the online version many of us have experienced this spring. But it would be foolish and irresponsible to ignore the risks of spreading Covid-19. I don't have anything approaching a comprehensive solution to this dilemma. But in this post, I offer some tentative suggestions for how in-person teaching can be restarted, while minimizing risk, while also avoiding creating an unbearable dystopian on-campus environment.

I readily acknowledge two important caveats to these suggestions. First, I am not an epidemiologist, and it is possible that new epidemiological evidence will invalidate some or even all of these ideas. Second, different institutions have different needs; ideas that may work well for some schools may be non-starters for others. My goal here is not to present a comprehensive one-size-fits-all plan that works for every institution, but rather to offer suggestions that a variety of schools could potentially consider. It may turn out that individual schools can adopt some of these ideas, but not others.

The proposals I offer rely on three key ideas. First, the advantages of in-person education are far greater for some types of classes than for others. Second, there are ways to protect faculty and students who face especially high risks without moving to a fully on-line model for the classes they teach or take. Third, discussions of the risk of in-person classes tend to implicitly assume an unrealistic baseline in which students will completely or almost completely avoid risk if they stay off-campus.

I. Exploiting Variation in the Relative Advantages of In-Person Teaching

For reasons I describe here, in-person teaching has important advantages over online instruction. Among other things, in-person teaching makes it easier for faculty to make eye contact and otherwise gauge the reactions of students, and to make sure that the latter are "getting" what the instructor is saying. Being in class also makes it easier for students to stay focused and effectively interact with each other.

I base these conclusions not only on my (admittedly limited) experience this semester, but also on years of prior experience teaching law students and undergraduates at several schools in the United States, and also at universities in Argentina and China. That experience includes a number of online classes and lectures, as well as many in-person ones. Still, these conclusions would be worth little if they were just my idiosyncratic views, based on perhaps unrepresentative experiences. However, recent surveys of students indicate that they too overwhelmingly prefer in-person instruction, and believe it makes it easier for them to learn.

I have not seen a good coronavirus-era survey of faculty members on this subject. But a 2018 survey found that large majorities are skeptical that online instruction can be as effective as the in-person kind. For example, "[e]ighty percent of instructors said digital courses were less effective than face-to-face classes in their ability to reach 'at-risk' students, and 65 percent said the same about 'rigorously engag[ing] students in course material and ability to maintain academic integrity (60 percent)."

But these differences do not affect all courses equally. In particular, for reasons I summarized in my earlier post on this subject, the advantages of in-person courses over online ones are much less significant for small courses with, say, 15 students or fewer, than for large ones. In a small class, it's far easier for the professor to keep track of all the students online, make eye contact with them, and ensure everyone is focused and able to participate. It's also easier for students to interact with each other.

Thus, schools can potentially keep smaller classes online, while reserving limited classroom space for bigger ones. This may seem like the exact opposite of what might be useful for maintaining social distance. Obviously it is easier for a small group to do so than big one. But by moving smaller classes online, schools can free up a lot of classroom space that would otherwise be used for them. That in turn can allow them to split up larger courses between two rooms.

The professor can be in one room, along with however many students can fit in there with while maintaining social distancing. The remaining students can be in the second room. They can watch the professor (and other students) on a large TV monitor set up at the front. The professor can in turn see the students in the second room on a monitor set up in her room.

The obvious objection to this setup is that it risks replicating the flaws of online teaching. But initial appearances are deceptive. The professor's attention in this scenario is divided in only two directions: the room she is in and the one she can see only through the monitor. That's far easier to manage than having to look at (and scroll through) several dozen different faces on Zoom or Webex. Moreover, the students in both rooms can benefit from easier interaction with their classmates in the same room, which can also make it easier to stay focused. Furthermore, the classrooms  won't have the distractions that often make it hard to focus on classes at home.

Moreover, students can rotate between the two classrooms, so that those who are in the monitor room on Day 1 of class can be in the professor's room on Day 2, and vice versa. That enables everyone to get regular in-person time with the professor—including, where needed,—time to talk before or after class, so long as everyone stays the requisite six feet from each other.

Structuring classes in this way can also minimize some of the dystopian constraints imagined by co-blogger Josh Blackman, among others. For example, social distancing in classes will be easier if they can be split between two rooms. Similarly, there will be no need for students to constantly disinfect the spaces they use, or to worry much about "touch points." With many fewer students on campus at any given time, disinfection can be done by specialized staff between classes (my understanding is that this in fact what many schools already plan to do).  The ability to distance in class and disinfect between classes will also reduce the need for constant tests and temperature checks, though it probably cannot eliminate such tests and checks entirely.

I would add that experts seem to be coming around to the view that touching surfaces actually poses relatively little threat of infection. If this solidifies into a consensus, it would further reduce the touch point/disinfection problem (though again not completely eliminate it).

The distinction between small classes and large ones on which this idea is based is not universally valid. Some small classes may require in-person interaction (e.g.—science classes that require students to do lab experiments). Some large classes may be exceptions to the generalizations made above. But it can be useful as a general rule.

II. Protecting High-Risk Faculty and Students.

By now, everyone who follows these issues knows that Covid 19 poses far greater risks to some categories of people than others. In particular, it is far more dangerous for those over 60 years old,  and people with certain types of preexisting health conditions. This creates a difficult dilemma for universities, since many faculty are over sixty, and there are others on campus (both faculty and students) who have health conditions that make them unusually vulnerable.

The obvious solution for such cases is to confine them to purely online instruction. But there may be other options that preserve some of the benefits of the in-person version. For example, high-risk faculty can potentially teach from home, but the students in their class can be gathered in a single room at the university (or two rooms, if need be), as described above. That makes it easier for the professor to see and keep track of all the students at once. The students, in turn can see the professor on a monitor in their room, and can also interact directly with each other.

I have used this method several times over the years to give talks at schools I could not, for various reasons, visit for an in-person presentation. It does not give me as good a feel for the audience as traditional in-person teaching. But it is vastly preferable to trying to keep track of several dozen different boxes at once on Webex or Zoom. I also find that students in such settings are more attentive and better-focused than when everyone is sitting at home using Zoom.

I do not have a comparably simple solution for high-risk students. If the rest of the class is held in person, they might have to "attend" online, which will necessarily put them at a disadvantage. But if, as seems likely, such cases are relatively rare (as students are generally a young and healthy group), it will be easier to give them the individualized assistance they may need, than if everyone is online, and support resources are spread thin, as they certainly were at many institutions this spring.

III. Mitigating the Dangers Posed by Dorms

The above suggestions address the potential risks posed by teaching in-person classes. But at many schools, dorm life may pose a much greater threat. Students in dorms often live close together, and share bathroom facilities, for example. This is not a major issue for law schools (like the one where I teach) and other graduate programs, as most law students and grad students live off-campus anyway. But it is an obvious problem for undergrads.

I do not have any simple solution for this issue. But one possible suggestion is for schools to give housing vouchers to some of their students, which could take the form of reductions in tuition large enough to cover the difference in cost between paying for a dorm room and paying for off-campus housing. There could perhaps be an extra payment to compensate for the social and other disadvantages some may experience from having to live off-campus. In this way, the dorm population can be reduced enough to bring the risk of dorm life down enough to make it comparable to that posed by "normal" living arrangements.

The voucher/payment system could also help sort students such that those who value dorm life least would be most likely to accept the voucher, while those who like it the most would have an opportunity to continue to live on-campus.

Obviously, this voucher system could be costly for schools, especially those located in areas where rent is high. For some, the cost might be prohibitive. But the cost should be weighed against the likely loss of revenue from students who choose not to attend, select a rival institution, or defer a year because of their strong distaste for online-only instruction.

IV. Using Realistic Baselines for Assessing Risk

Discussions of the potential dangers of in-person teaching often implicitly assume that students would face little or no risk of infection if only we stick to online instruction. In that event, the students would stay home and rarely if ever go out, except when absolutely necessary. Thus, any risk of infection created by in-person teaching would be a net increase in overall risk.

This assumption strikes me as implausible. Young people faced with another entire semester of isolation from campus and their classmates are unlikely to stay home alone indefinitely. Many will understandably begin to go stir-crazy, and otherwise feel starved of social contact. As a result, they are likely to begin to go out and take some risks. Those risks could easily be as great or greater than those they would face on campus, where the system described above can facilitate social distancing, while still enabling considerable interaction.

Those who object to in-person teaching on the grounds that students can't be trusted to obey social distancing rules on campus should ask themselves how those students are likely to behave if forced to stay away from campus entirely. The latter scenario could easily turn out to be more dangerous than the former.

Some of those students forced to live at home during the semester may end up living together with elderly or otherwise vulnerable relatives. That is particularly likely for lower-income students, who are more likely live in crowded conditions. If these students begin to take risks and go out, that could put those relatives at risk, as well—potentially far more so than if the students instead live on-campus or in housing funded by the voucher system described above.

It could still turn out that in-person instruction poses much greater risk than keeping students off-campus. But the issue must be assessed using a realistic baseline, geared to the actual likely behavior of young people forced to stay away from campus.

As Josh Blackman points out, the issues addressed here could turn out to be moot if government officials order another strict lockdown during the semester. But it is far from certain that will occur. Although the issue remains contested, there is now considerable evidence that severe lockdowns do not create benefits anywhere near great enough to justify their enormous costs. That—combined with the already perilous state of the economy—might make officials reluctant to reimpose them. Hopefully, also, by the fall, many jurisdictions will have in place less draconian methods of managing outbreaks, such as more effective testing and contact tracing.

Like many other industries, higher education will face difficult choices so long as the Coronavirus continues to be a serious threat. But, given the severe limitations of online teaching, we should at least consider options for resuming in-person instruction, particularly for those courses that can benefit from it the most.

The suggestions I offer will not "solve" all the problems universities face, or even come close to it. But I hope they can at least be useful contributions to the ongoing discussion of these issues.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: May 23, 1991

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  1. Or, we could just go back to normal? This is overblown anyhow and has proven to be not that bad.

    1. I wouldn’t say it’s “overblown”. Instead, I would say that it is serious, and a cognizant, rational response is needed. Some of the current responses are erring too far on the side of fear that is excessive for the current risks, and the relative means of being able to manage them.

      1. Armchair,
        For every reasonable person like you (who is on the other side of this issue from me), there is a moron like MollyGodiva, who is one inch short of the fatally-stupid “there is no pandemic at all” fringe.

        For me, the most influential moment came about 2 months into this crisis, when Dr. Fauci said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “What we want is, when this is over, to look back and say, ‘We did too much.’ or ‘We erred too much on the side of caution.’ Because if we do NOT say this, then it means that we did not do enough, or not quickly enough, and tens of thousands of lives will have been needlessly lost.”

        I had not thought of it in this way, I and I think a lot of other Republicans/small govt conservatives also had not thought of it in this way. There are times when I say that it’s better to err on the side of not doing too much…small and incremental steps are better. But not here. Not in the case of a global pandemic. I am very very happy that my state govt (under the heroic leadership of Gov. Newsom) and–finally–federal govt did massive shutdowns.

        1. Santa,

          There is an unfortunate tendency among risk-adverse managers and staff, called the add-on effect. Basically here’s how it works.

          The engineer has a risk assessment. But then, they hedge, and err on the safe side. Then they pass that to their manager. Their manager looks at it, and says…best to err on the safe side. So, he pushes the safety margins up a notch, and it goes up the ladder. His manager looks at it, and she says…best to err on the safe side, and the safety margin is pushed up another notch. What it results in, is absurdly high safety margins being placed in, without regard for the ultimate cost.

          That’s what we’re seeing here. A bump up, then another bump up, then a third bump up, without regard for the costs and side effects. The first bump was worth doing. With the second and third, the increased costs start to outweigh the benefits. But each is risk adverse

          Right now, we have absurd levels of economic damage, mental health damage, and damage to our constitutional rights, with potentially long-lasting implications. Not to mention the massive toll in suicide and drug ODs. Did Newsom act better than De Blasio? Yes. Were the super-strict lockdowns absolutely necessary…probably not. We’ve got Sweden as a counter example, as well as Florida, both of which have similar death rates to California.

          So, you may be happy with the outcome. But the massive amount of damage done to our young people, the poor, and the minority communities needs to be accounted for. And it’s not clear that it is being accounted for

        2. “What we want is, when this is over, to look back and say, ‘We did too much.’

          And the next time, no one will take you seriously.

          That’s a real issue with things like hurricane evacuations, and part of what led to the problems with Hurricane Katrina. It’s more complicated than just this, but folks didn’t take the warnings seriously because there had been so many prior false alarms.

          Above and beyond the inherent unconstitutional nature of unnecessary actions purporting to be necessary, the problem with “crying wolf” is that no one will believe you when there really is one there.

    2. Since we know young adults are not experiencing serious outcomes from the Chinese Coronavirus, schools need to go back to business as usual. For those working in the schools who are vulnerable to serious or even fatal outcomes, they need to take necessary precautions. The balance of the population ought to go about their daily lives as they did before the Chinese virus appeared.

    3. It ought to be clear that the ongoing shut down is no longer due to the virus. It’s now about officials who are drunk on power and unwilling to relinquish “emergency” control of their constituents.

  2. ” I don’t have anything approaching a comprehensive solution to this dilemma.”

    How about the same comprehensive solution we have applied to every other flu/virus/cold in the past?

    Be sure people know there is a new bug in town, recommend frequent hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home if you feel sick.

  3. Get a grip. The risk of death to college age students in decent health from the virus is orders of magnitude lower than death from traffic accidents. Ditto suicide and homicide. That risk is probably lower than death from lightning strikes.

    1. Okay, how about all the professors, who will be older than students? How about support staff? Any older relatives that students might also then interact with? Two-plus months of this shit and people still don’t get that it’s not exclusively about not being a victim but also about not being a carrier.

      1. The median age of decedents is 80+. Professors of age can wear PPE. This is somewhat worse than seasonal flu but nowhere near Ebola.

        Mike Olsterholm estimates that 60 to 70% of the population will get it sooner or later. The quicker the young and healthy get it the sooner we achieve herd immunity.

      2. Hire younger professors.

        There is no shortage of eligible persons, and (as we no longer care about individual rights) simply fire all the professors over whatever arbitrary age you decree. Likewise those with older relatives.

        1. This has been done in the airline industry for years. A powerful union was able to convince the FAA that a regulation setting a retirement age was prudent and “in the interest of safety.” It was in fact more about making more captain positions available to younger pilots. At age 65, airline pilots are forced to retire. It’s not based in science at all, in fact it is quite arbitrary, the epitome of age discrimination. The retirement age was 60 until an acute shortage of pilots prompted the FAA to change the rule a several years ago.

    2. Actually, risk to college age students from suicide and homicide are increasing because of this Kabuki Theater Nonsense….

      https://thefederalist.com/2020/05/22/california-doctor-calls-for-end-to-lockdowns-over-rising-suicides/

      1. You probably won’t hear this on CNN: “The mental health non-profit, Well Being Trust, estimates that upwards of 75,000 will ultimately succumb to the pandemic not through the virus but through deaths of despair by suicide and substance abuse.”

  4. To put it bluntly, this is going to be how we begin to develop herd immunity. It’s what happens every year with the seasonal flu. My university expects to be ‘open’ and operating in the fall, though it is waiting until June to make an official announcement, and int eh meantime there are about seven different task forces considering the problems of housing, health, athletics, etc.
    There is talk of taking large lecture classes generally to on-line, and augmenting them with more break-out discussion groups than has been typical in the past, but it’s going to be an interesting scramble to reallocate rooms.
    I don’t think there’s much alternative to dormitory life as we know it, because the university would take prohibitive cost-hit from not filling the dorms to near-normal capacity, and whatever reduction there is in housing and food services will imply massive layoffs of staff whom the university has done its best to keep on salary even while there is ‘nobody home.’ And making the students live off campus and commute more will, if anything, increase risky contacts.

    1. I notice that there is no discussion of permitting students to live off campus because that would cut into the dorm revenue fund. Yes, this is all about the money, and I’m thinking people are starting to see that.

  5. “Discussions of the potential dangers of in-person teaching often implicitly assume that students would face little or no risk of infection if only we stick to online instruction.”

    My impression is not that they assume students learning online face little or no risk, but that they assume any infections or deaths among students learning online would not be laid at the foot of the university the way deaths among students learning and living on campus would.

    1. Basically, yes.

      If one student in 100,000 dies of corona virus while attending a university, then the university could be liable.

      If 10 students in 100,000 die of corona virus while home, then the university has no liability.

      If 100 in 100,000 students commit suicide while at home, due to the lockdown, the university has no liability.

      1. If there is going to be liability for the spread of the Chinese coronavirus then doesn’t it follow that there ought to be liability for any contagion that is spread on campus or in a business?

  6. Isn’t the real issue legal liability for businesses and schools? As long as the CEO and chief counsel decides based on liability, faculty and students (even in law school) will not have their voices heard.

    We urgently need some new legislation relieving these organizations of liability so that those infected can not sue.

    1. I think there does need to be a national law that eliminates corona virus “liability” for businesses that reopened. One which requires gross negligence or more for a corona virus law suit.

      1. Armchair,
        I don’t understand this approach. (Certainly not from a free market proponent.) If medical experts are saying, “It’s dangerous to open your business now.”, and you have this information and make a business decision to ignore the information and open up, then why on earth can’t a future victim sue? Why pass litigation to protect a business owner who consciously puts her customers at risk? Why pass litigation designed to screw those victims?

        I’d have no problem with creating state-wide and/or national pool of funds–along with eliminating such lawsuits–where a victim can go for restitution. But that’s the sort of socialism-based protection that conservatives usually hate, on general principle.

        1. It looks to me as if there is a tension between the owner putting customers at risk and the knowing assumption of risk by customers.

          You don’t have to go to the restaurant just because it’s open. At the same time the owner needs to take responsibility for setting up safety measures. If a maskless waiter comes out and sneezes on you it ought to be on the owner, but if you willingly sit at the bar next to a bunch of others it’s your problem.

          I suspect these things need to be adjudicated on a case-by-case basis, though setting “safe harbor” conditions for owners makes sense.

        2. For any given location, there is reasonable doubt that the virus was ‘caught’ there and nowhere else that individual was in the prior two weeks.

          1. Long,
            Absolutely. That’s a question of fact. If you get sick at my diner and sue me, the initial burden will be on you, to prove that you got the virus from me. But that’s no different from, say, you getting food poisoning at my diner…you still have the burden of proof that it was my establishment.
            I presume that when 3-4 or more people all come down with Covid several days after patronizing my diner, you have a decent chance of winning at trial. Just like if you can show that the 3-4 people who ate my apple pie all got food poisoning.
            This is a normal part of civil litigation.

            1. Santa,

              So, food poisoning can be controlled for. But Corona?

              As a small business owner, how do you know it was your staff? How do you know that an asymptomatic super-spreader wasn’t simulataneously at your restaurant? They were there at the same time as 10 other people, who got the disease. You didn’t have a clue. No test would possibly have been able to figure it out.

              But, now you lose your life’s work, because a jury decides you somehow should have known.

              1. SAME EXACT ISSUE as with my tainted apple pie. I can lose my life’s work because you claim (truly or falsely) that I assaulted you, or that I accidentally poisoned you, or that I defrauded you. You are making a claim that civil remedies are inherently a bad thing, which is an economic argument, I guess.
                As a business owner, I can and should buy insurance that can cover me against a wide variety of claimed. Maybe not against an assault claim, as that’s intentional bad behavior. But if I’m covered against a food poisoning claim, I don’t see why I would not be covered against a Covid claim.

                I am still not understanding your adamant objection to Covid-related liability, as opposed to all the other sorts of legal exposure business owners face and deal with on a daily basis. Since you are asking for Covid to be treated dramatically differently, can you articulate why Covid is different? (I get the general point of: No owner can really know for sure if he/his staff is not a carrier. But that is a reason for a careful owner to stay closed for now. If people are getting food poisoning at my diner, and I decide to stay open after the first several are known to me, and there is no food testing available to me, to ensure that I’ve gotten rid of all tainted food, then maybe I should stay shut for the time being, for public safety’s sake, even if it causes real economic harm for me personally. And if I decide to stay open anyway, I’ll probably amp up my insurance coverage . . . I certainly doubt I’ll manage to get the local/state legislature to pass a law that says, “Santamonica’s Cafe–and all other restaurants–is immune from civil suits due to food poisoning, so caveat emptor for its patrons.”

                1. It seems different to me.

                  If people are getting food poisoning at my diner, and I decide to stay open after the first several are known to me, ..

                  But aren’t you liable even for the first case? And the reason for that, I imagine, is that if the customer gets food poisoning it is reasonable to conclude that you failed to follow proper procedures in handling and preparing food.

                  I don’t think we can say the same about covid, unless you want to say the owner has to test the staff, and all would-be customers. Is having an asymptomatic waiter on a par with leaving the fish out of the refrigerator too long?

                  Another distinction is that the customer can observe, to some degree, the restaurant’s practices. Are the tables spaced? Are personnel masked, etc. There does not seem to be much the owner can observe that is not also visible to the customer, at least if the owner sends home staff who don’t seem healthy.

                  And if I decide to stay open anyway, I’ll probably amp up my insurance coverage

                  Not if the insurance company sees you first.

                  I certainly doubt I’ll manage to get the local/state legislature to pass a law that says, “Santamonica’s Cafe–and all other restaurants–is immune from civil suits due to food poisoning, so caveat emptor for its patrons.”

                  I agree, and there may be a point there. Suppose someone proposed such a law. Would restaurant owners support it? I suspect they would not. I sure wouldn’t if I ran a restaurant, because it would cut into business. And if that’s right it tells you that the owners are confident they can avoid poisoning their customers, but not at all confident they can prevent them from getting covid.

        3. So, let me put this in context. I’ve got a friend who owns a bridal shop. It’s a little thing, sole proprietorship. In accordance with her state law, she was thinking about opening it up this weekend.

          But then someone asked, “what if someone who comes in later gets corona virus and blames it on you and sues you? You could lose your house.” So, she doesn’t open. Even if she won the court case, she’d still have all the attorney fees.

          Multiply that times 1,000 or 10,000 for all the shops.

          1. That’s correct. Business owners fear getting sued even if they did follow all the guidelines. As we all know, confidence of winning in court does not alleviate all the damage caused by getting sued.

            There are plenty of other cases where Congress provided “safe harbor” immunity to parties who abide to recommended practices.

          2. Would not this legal theory equally apply to flu infections?

        4. It’s a pandemic. It’s a pandemic. Large parts of the population are going to be infected whether this or that business or school stays closed or opens. The idea that a specific business or institution can be shown to be responsible for a given individual getting infected is absurd.

          Those institutions represent deep pockets. That’s all this is about. Get infected collect a big payday.

          The New York city subway is probably the nation’s number one Covid disseminator.

        5. I don’t understand this approach. (Certainly not from a free market proponent.) If medical experts are saying, “It’s dangerous to open your business now.”, and you have this information and make a business decision to ignore the information and open up, then why on earth can’t a future victim sue? Why pass litigation to protect a business owner who consciously puts her customers at risk? Why pass litigation designed to screw those victims?

          Didn’t the customers consciously assume that risk?

        6. The experts have been completely wrong on this since the beginning while practicing MD’s, those treating actual coronavirus patients, have been breathlessly refuting their recommendations, only to be vilified and silenced by social and main stream media. Why would any rational person put any stock in any of their recommendations at this point? It’s clear they have an agenda to keep the economy shut down indefinitely.

    2. What we really need is a ban on in loco parentis — or a law clearly establishing liability for institutions that adopt it.

  7. I’m not sure the voucher system for housing would accomplish much. In fact, I’d guess that off-campus living for most students will be as risky as a dormitory.

    The typical student living off-campus isn’t going to live alone. There will be roommates, and the apartments won’t be spacious.

    Many things have changed since I was a college student, but I doubt that’s one of them.

  8. Could it possibly be that now is the perfect time to try teaching in virtual reality? It would basically be the same as Zoom, except with blinders on to keep the students focused, possibly made out of cardboard. /sarc

  9. Better online teaching would help a lot more people. Broadcasting makes entertainment affordable and easily accessible to the masses while making a few entertainers rich. Hoping for a similar trend in learning.

  10. Imagine a nursing or chemistry lab without the lab…
    Not all university degrees are for just moving words around on a computer. Engineering majors have to work with their hands as well.

    1. Just learn to code. It’s the only path to the future. Nursing, doctors, engineers, are all so old fashioned.

    2. Imagine if students only had to pay in-person rates for the labs. And for the other 50-95% they could pay a very small fraction because it was all centrally produced and broadcast to hundreds of thousands of students at once.

  11. Summer camp would seem the best way to build herd immunity. College orientation would also seem a good way to build herd immunity because generally older faculty are not around.

    1. I’m thinking mosh pits. Is grunge still a thing?

  12. Who is going to want to pay full freight for mostly online instruction?

    I just don’t see it.

    This is not about protecting the law students one iota. This is about protecting old law professors with comorbidities. And liability protection, of course.

    1. And is there a shortage of young lawyers willing to become law professors? I don’t think so…

  13. I appreciate your and Josh’s posts, and I know neither of you are employment law specialists, but it would be great to have both of your views on the main issue here, which no one (commentators or universities announcing intentions and plans) seems to be addressing:
    Can a university administration force an unimmunocompromised faculty member under age 60 (especially a tenured one) to teach in-person in the fall, if that faculty member believes online instruction would be more pedagocially sound for the reasons Josh set out in his last post, and/or believes online teaching would be safer?

  14. If Ilya Somin thinks in-person education is better than online education, he just isn’t doing it right. It is simple as that.

    With online education, if you missed something from a lecture, you can re-watch the video. Lectures can be made to have higher production values.

    When I was an undergraduate, I got my computer science degree at UC Irvine, taking classes entirely in person. And later, I got my masters degree in computer science from Georgia Tech, taking classes entirely online.

    The online classes at Georgia Tech were better.

  15. This is a nice thought experiment, with some reasonable suggestions … but it completely misses the point of reopening in the fall. You’re providing a great solution to the wrong problem!

    Universities are not looking at how they can provide a better education for their students – that is the problem of the faculty, whose only job is to keep students happy. Universities are looking to maintain their business enterprises. This means maintaining the differentiator that encourages students to pay huge sums of money for the college experience (instead of, I don’t know, learning from books). From this perspective, what matters is not the quality of the education, but the perceived value of the tuition investment.

    This requires professors to teach in person on campus. Everything that is being done is focused on making that happen.

  16. I doubt the main vector for spread is class attendance or even ordinary dorm living. Each of those activities can be relatively easily socially distanced or subject to enhanced hygiene.

    Basically every super spreading event involves people indoors, relatively close together, speaking loudly or singing. So, parties. And you aren’t going to have undergraduates back on campus without parties happening.

    Your best hope is to get ahold of a lot of tests and test all your students before they come back, and then keep them as isolated as possible from the outside world. Which may mean keeping your faculty and administration remote and replacing staff that have to interact with large numbers of students with student workers. And test randomly and trace to deal with the inevitable leakage. I don’t see why that needs to be dystopic as Josh suggests. You just ask the person who tests positive what party he or she went to and then go test everyone who went to the party, and you also ask who they regularly spend extended time with and test those people. Sure, that won’t catch literally every transmission, but you don’t have to catch every transmission, and that will probably capture 95% of them.

    We have to stop treating tests as if they were a limited commodity on the medium run. Obviously trying to scale things up in days or weeks is hard because it means creating new capacity. But for universities, we’re four months away and all you need to do is place large guaranteed orders to get the needed capacity in place. Plus many universities have labs on campus.

    (Or I suppose alternatively you could just accep that all the students will get infected and also keep them as isolated from the outside world for the opposite reason.)

  17. “In particular, it is far more dangerous for those over 60 years old, and people with certain types of preexisting health conditions.” Age is not the issue; pre-existing conditions are the issue.

  18. The professor can be in one room, along with however many students can fit in there with while maintaining social distancing. The remaining students can be in the second room. They can watch the professor (and other students) on a large TV monitor set up at the front. The professor can in turn see the students in the second room on a monitor set up in her room.

    Why not simply have two sections?

    I know that doubles the teaching load, but in all these discussions I have yet to see suggestions that the faculty adjust its practices to bear part of the burden.

    I really don’t want to be snarky here, but but if you’re going to ask students to put up, at full tuition, with the various inconveniences being discussed, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask the faculty to the same. Maybe it is appropriate to ask that teaching be assigned higher priority than some of the non-teaching activities they spend time on.

    I mean, the students are the ones footing the bill.

  19. Quite a VC-looking law class, if you know what I mean.

    1. They don’t look like Viet Cong to me.

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