Section: Opinion

Delaying the start of the fall semester should be Kenyon’s only contingency plan

We are living in the midst of an unprecedented logistical nightmare. The outbreak of COVID-19 has wreaked global havoc, leaving hospitals swarmed, economies devastated and hundreds of thousands dead. Here in the United States, there is no clear end in sight and school systems are scrambling for solutions. The uncertainty brought by the virus has forced the American education system to completely reassess the logistics and functionality of the 2020-2021 school year.

One option nearly all school officials are weighing is the continuation of online learning for the upcoming fall semester. Schools nationwide found online learning to be the best choice to close out the 2019-2020 academic year, as it has allowed instructors to implement at least some of their remaining original curriculum. Unfortunately, the benefits of remote learning are somewhat lost when it is used as a long-term solution. Kenyon cannot turn to remote learning come August, as doing so would exacerbate the effects of unequal access to resources and unnecessarily reduce on-campus time for current undergraduates. In turn, the most optimal solution going forward is to delay the start of the upcoming academic year. Kenyon must prioritize higher quality on-campus learning, and delaying the semester is the only legitimate way of doing just that.

Online learning is innately reliant on students’ access to resources that schools would normally provide, the most pertinent of which is access to fast and reliable internet. Although the majority of Kenyon students have no problem obtaining a stable connection, there are some students that do not have the means to do so. This makes regular online lecture attendance somewhat difficult, ultimately detracting from the quality of their education.

Additionally, each student has unique obligations and responsibilities at home that they do not have on campus. For some, this includes taking care of siblings or working a job. A shift to online learning means having to juggle these alongside existing schoolwork, making remote learning all the less optimal. Thus, it is clear not all students have access to the same time, energy and resources necessary to thrive in a remote learning environment. This creates an inequity in Kenyon’s online system, which if continued would contradict the fundamental values of our school, a school that prioritizes equitable access to education for all 1,700 of its students. To avoid compromising the integrity of the College, Kenyon must not risk jeopardizing years and years of progress in equity for yet another online semester.

Furthermore, online classes in fall 2020 would unleash a new deluge of logistical and fiscal problems for Kenyon. For one, there is no fair way for the College to charge a substantial tuition for an online semester. Online classes are irrefutably a fraction of the quality of traditional in-person classes and paying full price, or anything close to it, would be heinous. It is extremely difficult to justify paying any considerable amount for a significantly lower-quality education. After all, trying to make out a professor’s staticky voice amidst a cacophony of dog barking is a far cry from the ideal Kenyon experience for which we are paying.

In tandem with the negative aspects of online classes, us college students want to actually experience what is supposed to be the most enriching time of our lives. This sentiment is a simple one laden with pathos, but it holds true for me and my peers; college is often the most formative and impactful period in a person’s life. It is a time of nearly unparalleled personal growth and relationship building, both of which are directly impeded by the lack of social interactions inherent in remote learning. We are extremely fortunate to have the resources to be able to achieve higher education. However, it would be unfortunate, to say the least, if almost a quarter of our ever-fleeting, expensive collegiate tenure was spent sitting in front of a computer in a cramped bedroom.

This sentiment is echoed by undergraduates across the country. Combined with the aforementioned economic influences, there would surely be an unprecedented amount of students who would unabashedly take semesters or full years off. This would not only cause the school to further hemorrhage money, but would also lead to a flurry of registration complications, enrollment confusions and budgeting problems. These circumstances would ensure that the fall semester would be a disaster — a semester of low enrollment and even lower engagement.

I do not doubt that the Kenyon administration realizes the numerous pitfalls of online classes, as is implied in President Decatur’s April 24 Student-Info email relaying the administration’s prioritization of residential life. It appears that the administration and I are on the same page here: Online classes are not a viable solution, and the most reasonable alternative is delaying the start of 2020 fall semester. This solution prioritizes not only the safety of the student body and faculty, but also the integral values of Kenyon as an institution. Undergraduate time on campus is maximized and access to resources remains equitable. If COVID-19 is still rampant come late summer, delaying the start of the school year is the only appropriate solution.

Salvatore Macchione ’23 is an undeclared major from Chicago, Ill. You can contact him at macchione1@kenyon.edu.

0 Comments

Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at collegian@kenyon.edu.