Los Angeles Times op-ed: How the Vaccine Could Resurrect Higher Ed, by Jennifer Mnookin (Dean, UCLA School of Law) & Eileen Strempel (Dean, UCLA School of Music):
In Los Angeles, you can once again dine outdoors at a restaurant. Stores are open and freeways are buzzing. Construction sites are crowded on weekdays as are the beaches on sunny weekends. But our region’s dozens of university campuses remain closed with plans for remote education at least through summer — and continued uncertainty about the shape of fall.
Nearly all university teaching throughout Southern California has been conducted remotely since March. This decision has promoted the safety of students, faculty, staff and the broader L.A. community, but it also comes at a cost. As we look ahead, the fall semester and higher education remain in jeopardy, despite the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Faculty, staff and students need to be given access to the vaccine sooner rather than later so that a full university life can resume in the fall. ...
The Zoom-based university can offer excellent classroom instruction, but universities at their best are high-density spaces where students and faculty interact inside and outside classrooms, laboratories, dorms and practice rooms. The ultra-low-density university cannot be the hub of intellectual intensity, the powerful collective place of invention and inquiry, nor fully inhabit its proven role as an engine of educational and economic activity.
The costs and limitations of remote education are even more dramatic for those from underrepresented communities and those with fewer economic resources. The pandemic has made the digital divide all too clear. Many students lack reliable Wi-Fi or a quiet space to access courses, leading them to disengage or even contemplate withdrawing. Mental health challenges among college students studying remotely have risen dramatically. And while applications to flagship universities have increased, fewer minority students and low-income students are applying to college overall.
Another term of remote education will exacerbate these disturbing trends. ... Unless we commit to give college students vaccine access before fall terms begin, many will have to continue their educations in their childhood bedrooms, at local coffee shops and who knows where else. Some will opt out of college, perhaps forever. Without timely, more complete vaccination, higher education will remain a shadow of itself.