Colleges and universities are “deluding themselves” about getting students back to campuses in the fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Michael J. Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College which is an HBCU (historically Black college or university).
In a recent article in The Atlantic, Sorrell said higher education institutions “are letting their financial and reputational worries cloud their judgment” about when it is safe to reopen campuses like normal.
“… rushing to reopen our society and our schools is a mistake that will ultimately result in hundreds of thousands of citizens falling sick and worse,” wrote Sorrell. “In this environment, we face fair questions about higher education’s business model, cost, and long-term prospects — and about whom higher education ultimately serves. Do we serve the students and families who appear at our doors each fall full of hope and faith? Or does self-preservation come first?”
To illustrate a point about making hard choices, Sorrell cited his own institution. He said that when he was named president, the Dallas HBCU was on the verge of closing. The hard decisions he made included eliminating football, altering the institution’s education model and, some years later, reducing tuition.
“The decisions we made — both early in my tenure and ever since — were all sensitive, because the population we serve was as economically vulnerable as the institution was. … Navigating such paths not only forces you to confront reality, but it also gives you clarity as to what is truly important,” wrote Sorrell.
Similarly, Sorrell said colleges and universities should “harbor no illusions” in this time of pandemic and make smart choices, because, even with preventive measures like social distancing, students will still be in close proximity with one another if campuses reopen.
“Because we do not yet have the ability to bring students and staff back to campus while keeping them safe and healthy, we simply cannot return to business as usual. To do so constitutes an abdication of our moral responsibility as leaders. We must ask ourselves: What would make leaders gamble with human life this way?”