Friday, March 13, 2020
TaxProf Blog op-ed: COVID-19 and the Future of the Academy, by D. Daniel Sokol:
Like many institutions, the University of Florida is now an online university. We have a shock that will have significant implications for the future of higher education. COVID-19 is forcing universities to move more rapidly in their provision of online education. While some classes and programs already have been moved online, faculties across fields typically have been resistant to online teaching. This is especially true in law.
Now that nearly every institution I know of has moved or is moving to online delivery, the battle against online education is lost and long term some aspects of online education will become permanent fixtures at nearly every institution. Faculty will need to adapt their pedagogy to online delivery- both synchronous and asynchronous delivery due to this exogenous shock. This move to online will be particularly disruptive for more senior faculty, particularly those whose last embrace of technology was to move from chalk to dry erase boards. I note a number of very tech savvy colleagues in their 70s but overall technology adoption seems to focus on more junior faculty.
It is a tough time at the moment as we focus on health and safety, in particular for senior faculty. These are faculty who have committed decades of their life to teaching and whose professional identities are tied to traditional education. They are some of my most cherished friends and colleagues in law, economics, and business schools. Many of them are also at higher risk for death from infection. A vaccine is likely 12-18 months away. In recent days, I have spoken to a number of academic colleagues at my institution and other institutions who are 70 and older. For the first time in their lives, these more senior colleagues are rethinking their long term teaching plans and careers. These colleagues understand that when classes begin in the fall and with a lack of vaccine at that time, assuming live classroom instruction, they will be exposing themselves daily to potentially fatal health risk. Some of my friends have spoken to me about potential retirement. It is not an easy decision for them. At this moment of great uncertainty, I hope that we can focus on the positive and appreciate our colleagues and mentors who have given so much of their adult lives to an educational mission.
Now is the time to get in touch with former professors and with more senior colleagues/mentors and let them know how much we appreciate all that they have done in shaping our careers. For those who are thinking about retirement due to a confluence of complex factors, letting them know how much they have meant to us is really important, whatever they decide. This is a tough time emotionally in particular for these faculty and we should be as empathetic as possible.
For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.