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Nov 26, 2018

Campus closures to come

Northern and coastal universities have adopted to an occasional snowstorm or hurricane closures. Sac State never closes, but it did just fine with the smoke emergency. However, not one university is prepared for a possible longer closure; let us say for three weeks or more. Such closures could happen because of a bad flue pandemic (which is bound to happen), a longer natural disaster like a volcano or an earthquake, or another disaster with significant damage to campus. To get a taste of such a thing, read about the Katrina’s impact on Tulane University. The difficulty is to keep students on track, and let them get needed academic credit. Just imagine an impact of massive tuition refunds on the university finances, and the impact of a lost semester on tens of thousands of students.

The main problem is that not all instructors are capable of teaching out their courses in an online environment. Although the technology for it exists, is tried and ubiquitous, most higher ed. faculty would have a great difficulty to adjusting to on-line teaching. The easiest thing would be to create some sort of a crash-course on online teaching that can be quickly accessed. Just a list of student assignments and assessments that could substitute f2f equivalents would be helpful. Faculty members are smart, and they will figure it out with a little help.

The issue of access and equity is also very important. Universities should focus on providing emergency access to internet and to computers for the neediest students. We have hundreds of laptops in various classes and carts, but have no procedure for quickly loaning them to students. Universities could stockpile some portable routers or they can buy access to a larger network, like Xfinity. We could have agreements with public libraries and shopping malls to lend internet access to students during prolonged closures. All of this could take time and effort.

Educational organizations in general invest very little in emergency preparedness, which is understandable. How do you justify spending precious time and resources on something that is so rare, and may never happen at all? This is one of those rare occasions where having a large system like CSU may help. Each campus alone cannot do it, but the System may need to spend some time and resources in drafting a prolonged campus closure plan. Even a plan of actions for a university administration is better than nothing.

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