It is often a struggle to figure out what to write for this blog.
The struggle is the opposite of what many people experience when faced with a writing challenge. Rather than having a hard time figuring out what I want to write about, I’m much more likely to have too many topics I want to explore at any given time. I keep a running list of education-related news and commentary that strike me as interesting and potential jumping off points for my own thoughts.
These are from just that last few days.
A Washington Post story on how COVID outbreaks among UW-Lacrosse students look like they ultimately spread to the elderly population. I wanted to compare and contrast this with what appear to be some success stories on other campuses in successfully containing the infection. We have another semester in January. Better understanding what works and what doesn’t seems like a worthy topic of exploration.
I’m intrigued by considering Inside Higher Ed’s Collen Flaherty’s wonderful story on “The Souls of Black Professors,” in contrast with stories of schools ending race-related programming because of threats from the Trump administration.
I have lots of thoughts about Becky Supiano’s exploration of “cheating” during pandemic-driven remote assessment at the Chronicle.
And finally, I want to explore my irritation over reading Ian Bogost’s essay on the “college experience,” which unpacks the tension between how parents (the ones who pay for their kids’ school) view the experience of college versus what colleges are or could be, and how that view hovers over our entire cultural narrative of higher ed. When I’m irritated by a piece of writing, particularly someone whose work I know and respect, like Bogost, I’ve learned it’s an occasion to dig in and probe my own response in greater detail.
In a normal week, I pick one of the topics that calls to me, sit down for an hour on one day and pound out a draft and then work it over a few separate times over subsequent days until it reaches a threshold of “done enough to publish as a blog post.”
I haven’t been able to do that this week because until we know the results of the next election, everything is on hold. The different paths made possible by different outcomes could not be more divergent and it feels rather pointless to add my voice to a current debate on the state of higher education until we know what’s possible.
A Trump re-election, particularly paired with Republicans holding the Senate, suggests to me that higher ed will be under siege, one of the enemies to subjugate, and the chances for the kind of monetary bailout to ease the effects of the pandemic, or changes in our higher ed system to make it more equitable and sustainable are beyond unlikely.
For example, I could see a Trump Administration following through on their promise to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t open to face-to-face instruction. Imagine what would happen to schools who cannot access Pell money. They would have no choice but to bend the knee.
A Biden election with Democrats controlling both the House and Senate is no panacea for higher education by any stretch, but it may make some of the things I wish for institutions at least possible. The questions I think are important to answer would be on the table, and while I would expect to be greatly frustrated by the process, at least there’s the potential for progress.
With these questions in the air, I find my thoughts literally suspended. As I am not in the political prediction racket, I cannot sufficiently convince myself that one outcome is so much more likely than the other than I can write confidently to this eventuality.
The future is rough for higher ed no matter what. Most everyone believes we’re just scratching the surface in terms of the revenue contractions at the state level, and history tells us higher education will take more than its share of lumps when it comes to budgets.
Schools have managed to have a fall semester with varying levels of success, but there were obviously struggles that will continue into the spring, and quite possibly next fall as well. There is no choice but to move forward, to keep doing the best we can, but the number of unknowns seems about as high now as they were when this who thing started last March.
In a little over a week (fingers crossed) we’ll have some resolution to see what’s next, and what sort of future is possible.