I’m not a professor, but I play one on—no, wait—wrong commercial. I’m not a professor, but I used to be. Now as the spring semester, which ended remotely, is winding down all over schools are asking what they should do in the autumn. Should the fall semester—the great migratory event of the human species—be virtual or actual? We know the coronavirus will still be lurking out there, and we know that colleges mix people from all over the world, which is one of the real essentials of education. I try to picture myself teaching to a classroom of masked faces. I try to envision frat parties with social distancing. I try to imagine the dining halls where students are packed in closely together, handling knives, forks, and spoons that others have touched. I think and shudder.
I know some younger folks. They tend to trust certain internet personalities because they seem smart. I’ve even occasionally asked what the qualifications of such personalities were only to receive an “I don’t know” answer. This is among educated viewers. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have my diplomas on the wall behind me. I never even had them framed. They’re still in the tubes. I had to show my Ph.D. diploma to two recent employers even though I was hired by universities without ever having to unroll it. That was back in the day when you could have face-to-face interviews. Back when a bona fide degree from a world-class research university meant something. Now economics are being weighed against wisdom. It’s not a fair fight.
There’s a reason economics is called “the dismal science.” With Malthusian overtones, we increase to the point of stressing our resources. A disease breaks out and quickly spreads through our dense populations, but not our denser individuals. We don’t want to be seen as uneducated, but there’s the great god Mammon to consider. Funny thing is, back when I was still teaching schools like Rutgers had a difficult time getting tenured professors to train for online courses. Why put yourself through the trouble when your job is already secure? They trained adjuncts such as myself instead. There was, to put it in economic terms, already a demand for online education. But there are campuses to be maintained, and there’s only so much you can do at home with your own chemistry set. And so we face the summer wondering how it will end. It’s time for some critical thinking, but that’s above my pay scale.