What Will Life Be Like at Post-COVID Colleges and Universities

May 20, 2020
By Peter Decherney and Caroline Levander

It may take weeks, months or years, but one day we will all be back on campus. We will greet each other as we walk across the quad, go to department meetings, teach students, head into our labs and check out books from the library. And we will do these things without grabbing for our wipes and face masks -- without wondering if we just made the mistake of our lives.

We will do these things again, but we will never return to the way things were. We will value our human contact more than we did before, acknowledging the gift of learning while being together, holding our dear ones close again with the knowledge that doing so is a privilege. But we have also been exposed to online interaction on a global scale, spending months and possibly longer engaging with each other online and doing collective work with remote tools. It is inevitable that we will incorporate some of the eye-opening new possibilities into our academic and extracurricular lives. Just as Sept. 11 forever changed air travel, so too has COVID-19 forever changed how we work, live and interact. Unlike Sept. 11’s impact on air travel, however, COVID-19's impact might make education easier and better.

Many of us, for example, have been surprised by the effectiveness of telemedicine. We aren’t yet ready for videoconference open heart surgery over our phones, but telemedicine can ease the friction of going to the doctor and increase many patients’ chances of getting care when and where they need it. The ease of having a conversation with our doctors has surprised and delighted us -- who wants to go back to hanging out in waiting rooms filled with coughing people and navigating forbidding medical centers after frustrating time lost in traffic?

Similarly, Zoom-enabled workouts and livestreamed yoga classes that we access with the click of a button make the idea of ever returning to hot, sweaty studios and big-box gyms seem ridiculous. In higher education, as in these other industries, we have also been introduced to the seductive ease of Zooming in a guest speaker to a class and FaceTiming with a student stuck on her homework. If telemedicine and virtual workouts will likely become more pervasive, what in the circadian rhythms of university life will also remain or become virtual? What have we learned that we don’t want to live without when life resumes post-COVID?

To read the rest of the article, please go to Inside Higher Ed.