(Third in a series of articles on the implications of the coronavirus for our times, for human history, and for the fate of the earth.)
The advent of COVID-19, or a novel coronavirus, has, it appears, virtually overnight altered the nature of university instruction and student learning. Throughout the months of January and February 2020, while the virus created havoc in China before turning Italy into the new epicenter, life proceeded on American university campuses without any real thought to what was transpiring in that ‘distant’ country. By January 25, a cordon sanitaire had been placed around the entire province of Hubei Province, which with a population of 60 million has as many people as Italy, but this did not leave any real impression on Americans nor on universities. As late as February 20, Italy had reported less than a handful of cases, and though there was the whole spectacle of a cruise ship marooned just outside the port city of Yokohama (really a ‘suburb’ of greater Tokyo) with hundreds of passengers stricken with the virus, COVID-19 must still have appeared as an overwhelmingly ‘Asian’ problem. In truth, even the alleged world-class universities in the most cosmopolitan cities of the United States are overwhelmingly insular. This is, needless to say, partly the consequence of being ‘American’: in universities, as in other spheres of life, ‘American exceptionalism’ reigns supreme, and there is frankly little interest in what transpires in the rest of the world. One hopes that, in rejoinder, one will not be told that most of the major American universities, and even many of the minor ones, have “global studies” programs, vast number of area studies programs and departments, and instruction in host of languages. They doubtless do but even naivety has its limits. Hegemons must command vast areas of knowledge as much as they wield dazzling military power, use their power to bend other nations to their will, or attempt to set the global agenda in various domains of life.
By early March, as COVID-19 continued on its relentless search for new terrains, panic was beginning to set in and on March 6th Stanford became the first university to announce that it was moving all classes online. Harvard followed suit some days later, as did the gigantic 10-campus University of California, and within hours nearly hundreds of college and university had suspended in-class instruction. The letter of the President of Harvard, Lawrence Bacow, to members of the Harvard University of March 10th serves as a useful template for understanding how university leaders across the nation have sought to normalize the transition to what is called “remote learning”. It begins with the customary acknowledgment that the crisis at hand has been “a powerful reminder of just how connected we are to one another”: barely had this platitude left the mouth of this “leader” of the world’s richest university, it became known that Harvard had no plans to offer any aid to students from working class families who were being asked to vacate their dormitory rooms instantly and had nowhere to go and inadequate funds to support themselves in independent housing. One student on financial aid, interviewed for a New York Times article, said that Harvard’s edict felt “like an eviction notice.” Harvard is well-connected indeed—what else is it but well-connected, we may ask—but its niggardly conduct and miserliness is as well-known as its propensity for being connected with the elect.
Without much fanfare, Bacow then proceeds to state that Harvard will “begin transitioning to virtual instruction for undergraduate and graduate classes”, and that students are asked “to meet academic requirements remotely until further notice” and be prepared to stay at home. “The decision to move to virtual instruction was not made lightly”, avers Bacow, but members of the community were given no insights into the supposed ponderous deliberations in which he and other university administrators were engaged. The Chancellor of UCLA, the institution from which I derive my livelihood, similarly emailed members of the “campus community” about the “transition to online instruction” on March 10th. The wording of his missive, announcing the immediate suspension of “in-person classes” and the “transition to online platforms”, is similarly entirely opaque about the substantive nature of the deliberations, though the “community” is sought to be reassured that the decision was taken “after detailed and thoughtful discussion, consultation with experts, and planning and preparation”. I suppose it is enough these days to mention “experts” and expect that, willy-nilly, everyone will quietly fall into line. Presidents of even leading universities long ago ceased to be intellectuals—and I am hopeful that the distinction between “intellectuals” and academics, especially academic “experts”, still resonates with some—and the preponderant number, notwithstanding their academic credentials, have more of an aptitude for administrative work, fund-raising, and parleying with the legislature and the corporate world rather than anything else. Lately, considering this or that crisis—gun shootings and ICE raids on undocumented students, to name two—they serve eminently as conduits of information, as grief counselors, as consolers-in-chief, and as purveyors of messages of the “thoughts and prayers” variety. What is striking is that nowhere in these messages from Presidents, Chancellors, and Provosts is there any substantive discussion of the implications of “remote learning”.
The extraordinary ease with which the highest-level university administrators have sought to effect the transition to “online” or “remote” learning should, however, be a matter of grave concern. It is not that administrators have not anticipated the concerns that some faculty and students alike have expressed: some students do not own computers, while others, particularly in rural areas, have limited or unstable internet connections; and there are yet other students, especially from poor or working-class families, who share their rooms with siblings or do not have quiet places where they can work. And there are even students, if a miniscule number, who are without any roof over their head. All these and other akin considerations are highly pertinent, if predictable: they point to the fact that higher education is as hierarchical an enterprise as any, and that its political economy in the US reflects the nakedly capitalist system in which it is embedded. But these concerns, genuine as they are, do not begin to approximate the perils of the mass transition to “remote learning” that is now taking place under the cover of the coronavirus.
Several considerations may be brought forward as a prolegomenon to further discussions on the subject. First, though the present transition to “remote learning” is being presented as a temporary measure, there is every possibility that it will become a permanent feature of the American educational landscape to a far greater degree than is the case at present. There are many people, representing a range of interests, who have been asking why, if brick-and-mortar bookstores have been replaced with Amazon and other online book vendors, and even grocery stores have lost a substantial portion of their business to online merchants, colleges and universities as we have known them should not fold and turn strictly to online learning. The initial investment in preparing a proper online course in a studio setting can be hefty, but is quickly recovered as the course can be recycled to tens of thousands of students in multiple setting over a long span of time; moreover, the “remote learning” that is now being peddled as the substitute for in-class teachings does not even remotely require such an investment. Those who have been hired to offer online instruction at community colleges or 4-year state level institutions over the last several years are generally paid a pittance, sometimes as low as $2500 for a full semester-long course or even a lesser amount for a course with a handful of students.
The growing attraction for online learning stems, however, from considerations besides the fact that online education is much cheaper than the “traditional” classroom setting. The university is one of the few remaining sites of dissent in most countries; the university is, comparatively speaking and to use a colloquialism, a “messy business”. University cafes have everywhere been recognized as the place where the real learning takes place, and where fellowship and conviviality become possible. Democracies have to allow, at least to a minimal extent, a public space to radical, dissenting, and eccentric ideas, and that space, to the extent that it exists at all in a country where nearly everyone subscribes to the capitalist ethos, is occupied preeminently by the university. Few people really understand what universities represent, and to most people, indeed even to most students, the university is merely a passport to secure employment and a job-training factory. The corporate and managerial types, as well as many politicians, have long fretted over the inefficiency of the modern university, where, lo and behold, a professor of art history, anthropology, or English literature may—in the best of circumstances—end up making upwards of $200,000 annually, and that too for teaching two to four courses every year. Though the corporation has made deep inroads into the American university, and rendered some units of the university—economics department, and the business and law schools, to name a few—largely servile to its own interests, the feeling persists that much more needs to be done to put the university on a “business model.”
The increasing encroachment of the business model, the ascendancy of the managerial and administrative types, and the relentless quest for profits have all had the effect of already altering the university in the US, and in countries such as India where the American model of privatization resonates strongly with the present government and Indian elites, to an appreciable degree. Nowhere is the present turn more palpable than in the increasingly diminished ranks of tenured faculty and the resort to adjunct and part-time instructors, many of whom are paid abysmally low wages, lack union representation, have no medical insurance, and of course have absolutely no protection against dismissal. A recent review article in the New York Review of Books (12 March 2020) of some 15-20 books on higher education terms these adjuncts not incorrectly as the “serfs of academe”. The brute fact is that the same administrators who are effortlessly pushing for remote learning, without any discussion whatsoever with tenured faculty, are also in favor of increasing the ranks of adjunct faculty. They cost the university a fraction of what tenured faculty do, particularly at the most prestigious institutions. All of this transpires amidst the charade of what at the University of California is called “shared governance”: naturally, university administrators are not keen on conversing with tenured faculty whom they would like to see replaced with cheaper and more vulnerable academic labor.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it is also transparently clear that “remote learning” is in the most insidious ways the apposite form of pedagogy for the “social distancing” that we are all enjoined to practice diligently. One of the many unfortunate trends in American higher education, which I now fear is going to become more prominent with “remote learning”, is the destruction of the relationship between the professor and the student. It would take a volume to etch the narrative of this corrosive decline as there are myriad factors which have led to such a state of affairs. Many students in American universities, even at the better ones, are woefully underprepared for any serious intellectual inquiry, and the vast majority, as I have already argued, have no intrinsic interest in learning. But leaving aside these considerations, if one may turn to a very different illustration of the corruption of pedagogy, it is astonishing that a preponderant number of the faculty, at American universities and indeed now in universities in many other countries, such as Australia and Britain, have readily embraced such technologies as Turnitin [turn-it-in]. It has been ostensibly designed to prevent students from plagiarizing and thus, as the company states, to promote “academic integrity”. Such technologies amply illustrate the place of surveillance in a modern liberal society and the various ways in which the state has encouraged the practice of self-surveillance. There is a further problem here, though no one seems much bothered by it: the assumption is that potentially every student is adept at cheating, and students must establish that the work is their own and not plagiarized. (We may leave aside, for obvious reasons, such finer points as what is meant by plagiarism, how ideas are borrowed, or how in borrowing an idea might find a more interesting life than in the ‘original’ text; we may also ignore the argument advanced by compliant faculty that their recourse to Turnitin derives merely from considerations of expediency, just as it discourages students from leaning blatantly on the work of others without due acknowledgment.)
The effect of modern university learning, I would submit, has been to distance faculty from students. I am also mindful of the fact that there are arguments to be made for some forms of distancing: some faculty, to take one example, might argue that such distancing has been critical in keeping some male professors from preying on female students. The university is, needless to say, a very different institution than what it was three or four decades ago, but what is unquestionably true, to my mind, is that relationships built on trust have become increasingly difficult. “Remote learning” and “social distancing” are, in the milieu of university education, cognate categories: what remote learning will undoubtedly do is render students even more distant from faculty. University education is headed entirely in the direction of becoming another business, just merely another enterprise in a society that knows no other kind of person than homo economicus. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to hasten the end of the traditional university as we have known it over the decades and centuries.
This is a very true and sobering account of the problems afflicting the modern university and the corporate attack on it. The attempt to deradicalize the university has echoes of the successful deradicalization of the global labor movement which, while once explicitly anti-capitalist, has resigned itself to simply seeking concessions for the workers from the capitalist class. This can be especially seen in the US, where the labor unions, whose numbers are dwindling by the day, have essentially become a wing of the Democratic Party. In societies which ostensibly have “freedom of expression”, capitalists cannot achieve their hegemony through overt censorship so they must resort to these tactics of transforming or removing the lifeblood from whatever institutions continue where the pro-corporate line of thinking isn’t the only one on offer. This also involves the appropriation of radical historical figures, such as in India where the figure of Gandhi is lauded by all the major politicians whose actual moral commitments are as far away from those of the Mahatma as can be.
These “students” you mention that regard university solely as a stepping-stone to a job—or dare I say career—are in fact the problem at the heart of the system. In time, they may very well be the ones to perpetuate the university as a business model and nothing else. The small fraction of students and the tenured professors that consider the institution a place of learning not by rote but by discovery and discussion breathe life into the place.
As a first-year student at an esteemed university, I already see quite clearly the demarcation between the two classes of students. One renders the other unable to speak freely; daring to make an intelligent remark could be socially costly, as if we were in grade school. So I will add that this slow erosion of the professor-student relationship you mention is due not only to outside forces but such forces within the university itself.
Otherwise, thank you for the great read!
Hi Yash, There is no question that a great many of the students have no intrinsic interest in learning or, to use that phrase, “the life of the mind”. But, frankly, at 18 or 19 or 20 most student’s thoughts are not well-formed, often not until much later, and I would rather assign more responsibility to the managerial/corporate types. There are structural problems here associated with Neo-liberalism and capitalism, and we cannot discount those. You also raise a point about some of the brighter students having to exercise self-censorship (for example, so that they are dismissed as “nerdy” by others), but this takes place in the ranks of the faculty as well. Faculty who are untenured often do not speak out for fear of not getting tenured; by the time they are tenured, many have been wholly tamed and domesticated.
Excellent observations, particularly with respect to the labor movement. BTW, Obama, much lionized by liberals (and now even by some “traditional conservatives”, who are getting nostalgic about a President who at least was ‘decent’), did his bit in destroying organized labor, especially labor not wedded to the Democratic Party. You are absolutely on spot in arguing that the labor movement is just reduced to seeking concessions from the capitalist class.
Come on now Professor, you must admit you’ve been rather harsh in this article.
1. American exceptionalism did not delay universities from realizing the effects of the virus. Rather, it was simply the unfamiliarity of the situation, pandemics are not monthly events.
2. The distinction between intellectuals and academics – is that not simply an arrogant way of patting yourself on the back for being an intellectual? People are different and not all derive happiness from academic pursuits.
3. The implications of remote learning are hard to gauge simply because no crisis of this scale or magnitude had arisen in recent memory. If they had delayed that email in order to deliberate about those consequences – would you not have blamed them for a lack of leadership and a timely response.
4. The traditional college experience is also about meeting people from different walks of life and being exposed to new ways of thinking. Even the most money minded of students would admit that. This would stop with remote learning.
5. Do students need an intrinsic need to learn? You blame capitalism for rendering the university as a job training factory. However this dream that every student is some driven intellectual is a utopian fantasy that has never existed anywhere. Students 200 years ago may have been more intellectual, however it was their privilege that allowed them to be so. Other potential students were too busy trying to survive by working in a factory or as a peasant or excluded because of sex, caste, race etc.
6. Competition in intrinsic to humanity – capitalism simply offers $ as the reward. In ages past and still somewhat today, was religion not a system that bound people’s aspirations pitted them against one another. How else do you explain religious hierarchy and castes. Whether capitalism exists or not, there will always be haves and have nots.
Hi Shaan, Thanks for taking the effort to ‘engage’ me. I cannot respond to all the issues you have raised. I will make only a few points, very briefly, beginning with the suggestion that you re-read the essay carefully. I did not, for instance, describe the “delay” as you call it in responding to the coronavirus as a form of American exceptionalism. The exceptionalism consists in the US being wholly indifferent, for the most part, and even in universities, to what happens in the rest of the world. Fundamentally, Americans are self-absorbed and insular. You also do not appear to have understood the distinction between ‘academics’ and ‘intellectuals’ (though of course sometimes the two coincide). I am not at all saying that the academic life is the only worthwhile way of deriving one’s happiness or even livelihood; far from that. This is apart from the question of what is “happiness”, which is the subject for another essay. I do not object to remote learning as such, at least not in the essay: my point is that one cannot simply transition to it without a substantive understanding of its implications. I spell out some of those implications. On point 4, I am in agreement with you; with respect to capitalism, I do not wish to idealize the past, and you are doubtless right, though you do not use this phrase, that there has been a real democratization of higher education. I would be the first person to admit it. We have had various forms of hierarchy in the past; capitalism introduces others. So if there have always been “haves” and “have nots”, then perhaps we should cease to study and understand social structures, or the various ways in which inequality surfaces in a society. I would urge you not to set up straw men — for example, the fantasy (which you impute to me) that every student in the past was a driven intellectual. At the same time, as I’ve indicated before, I certainly agree that many more people now have the chance to live the life of a student, though of course we can complicate that too by asking how, and why, the university became the only site of pedagogy. There are many forms of learning, not all derived from ‘the university’.
COVID-19 truly has altered the nature of education. As a first-year student at UCLA, I have experienced this firsthand. I feel that as my peers and I have become more familiar with the structure of online learning, we have become more and more distant in terms of forming academic communities. When online schooling first began in the fall of 2020, almost everyone, myself included, had their cameras and microphones on over Zoom. I think that this is in part due to the fact that we all believed we would be on campus soon, but mostly because online school was somewhat foreign to everyone. As time continued and no sign of on-campus learning anytime soon arose, live videos started to become profile pictures with muted microphones. It is definitely a lot harder, both socially and academically this way, so upon reading this article’s prediction of a shift towards permanent online learning, I was a bit disheartened. I can only imagine how students without technology, study spaces, money, or even homes feel about the whole situation. However, it is definitely apparent that many schools will start converting to either hybrid classes or all-online classes for the sake of their financial standings. When COVID-19 first emerged, I thought that it would be relatively minuscule in nature and if it did spread, it would solely affect the medical aspects of people’s lives. I never could have imagined the current state we are in, especially when it comes to educational institutions.
Hello Professor Lal!
This article really hits home, especially as a new university student whose first experience is online learning.
I most certainly fear for a future where the status quo is irrevocably changed by COVID-19, but I also am afraid of the possibility that all future learning will take place online. So far this does not seem like it will become reality.
I would like to bring up another concern regarding the accessibility and malignant nature of remote learning. During the entire pandemic, the cost of going to a university did not change, and for many, this might have provided some complications. Not only were many economic sectors frozen because of COVID-19, but paying almost the full price (granted no housing or meal plans) of a university to only sit at home is really a bummer. I understand that some of the payment is used to pay professors like you, but I’m not sure why they would keep charging the small fees that go towards improving a campus that many of us aren’t on.
This, of course, is not the case for all college students. Furthermore, it seems we are on the tail end of the pandemic. Perhaps this capitalistic function of universities can be pinpointed on something else?
I’m aware that students at nearly every American university have been charged full tuition during the entire course of the pandemic even though campuses were shut down and all courses were moved online. As you correctly point out, professors such as myself (and of course the staff and administrators) continued to be paid salaries. I am certain that every university, including UCLA, will continue to defend the practice of charging full tuition on various grounds, including the argument that the closure of residential halls, dining rooms, campus restaurants, athletic services (a huge revenue earner, along with parking), etc all inflicted a heavy financial blow to the university. The argument on the other side of the divide also seems compelling: why should students have to pay the same tuition fee for online learning? As you further point out, and I know this firsthand from the case of students attending the California State Univ system, various fees continued to be charged to students even when the campus was shut down which seem wholly unjustified, among them Health Services Fee, campus athletics facilities fee, etc.
I am wholly sympathetic to the issues you have raised. Nevertheless, I would urge you and other readers to think about the broader questions of political economy that I raise in my essay. Those have to do with the increasing corporatization of the university, the bloated administrative structures, the incentive to seek profits, the decline of the public intellectual, etc. All these are detrimental to the future of the university and I am certain that the situation is going to deteriorate in the years ahead.
I found it interesting that you brought up the fact that the current university model is widening the divide between the student and the professor. While I do not agree with the fact that the majority of students do not have the drive to learn (maybe I’m being extremely naive), I do agree that the gap between the student and the professor has widened to the extent that a large number of students shy away from being intellectually challenged in a one-on-one discussion with their professor. This is something that I have noticed over the past two years, and the online model of learning has just furthered this divide. In my first year at UCLA, a professor/ TA’s office hours would be packed with students to the extent that sometimes we would have to relocate to a larger room, but now, whenever I do attend office hours, I find little to no students present. I don’t mean to say that I am not a culprit to this, however, the question as to why this is occurring does pop up in my mind, after all, shouldn’t online office hours be easier to attend, especially considering the fact that there is a layer of anonymity that exists with microphones and cameras being off.
Another factor of this transition to online learning that really stuck out to me was the fact that students are having to pay the exact same tuition as pre-covid for remote classes. While I fully appreciate the effort that professors are putting in, and respect their attempt to make classes as engaging and interesting as possible, I feel like as a student, something that we are paying for is the experience of being at a university campus, living on it, dining on it and so on. This aspect of the “experience” is almost completely missing and yet we are having to pay as much.
I enjoyed this article and thought your points on how this remote learning creates division between the teacher and the student, as well as how Covid-19 has likely speed up the end of traditional university as we know it were both very interesting. Learning online this year has obviously not been ideal, but I do think adapting to learning online poses some solutions to problems we’ve had difficulty with in the past. While it can create divisions and cut off networks that could lead to opportunities, in some ways, learning online can make education more accessible to people. Recorded lessons provide students with a way to catch up on class we missed due to illness or personal issues, which was difficult when we were in person. I do not think the quality of education is the same as when we are in person, as personal connections are a huge part of the education experience, but it is better than nothing. I do wish the price of the education adjusted with the quality, as this style of learning is definitely worth less than it is to study in person, but again, it is better than nothing. Online learning also opens up the ability to educate everyone without the limitation of their distance, even though there is the limitation of internet. As you said, in some ways, online learning has some benefits, even though it can sometimes feel like a disaster that leaves everyone divided and unmotivated. Even if this is the end of traditional university as we know it, I don’t think that has to be a 100% bad thing, as I believe there are ways we can integrate this online accessibility even when we are back in person that could actually improve the educational experience for everyone. For example, posting the recorded lectures for students to go back to even if they miss in person class is a good thing, and it’s very helpful that you were recording the lectures to provide that accessibility even before Covid hit.
I find your account of the corporate corruption of higher learning quite interesting, and have seen some of the symptoms you mention myself. The decline of the student-faculty relationship is most certainly exacerbated by the introduction of online “learning”, and I find myself personally at a loss sometimes about how to engage effectively with a course. I was luckily able to have my first two quarters at UCLA fully in-person last year and spent within them a great deal of time with academic inquiry. Finally free of the monotonous stranglehold of public high school I was able to take courses on subjects that fascinated me and spend time during office hours and after lecture in discussion that genuinely engaged me with course materials and *why they mattered*. March of 2020 marked a complete U-turn in my university experience – it seemed nearly impossible to get to know my professors and “learning” through a computer screen felt ineffective and fake. I found myself growing rather apathetic toward my studies, focused more on getting an A than actually caring about the subject. Between now and then those feelings have more or less stayed the same, yet I have found myself comparing these two experiences with relative frequency. I have remarked on more than one occasion to friends that “oh, if X, Y, or Z course was in-person I feel like I’d care much more”. While Zoom appears to enable discussion and connections on the surface, remote video conferencing is truly no replacement for a genuine conversation. I fear the day that this sort of experience becomes touted as effective, efficient, or anything but a makeshift imitation of genuine academia.
One thing this situation has me wondering is the effect of isolation of the development of the youth. While I don’t consider myself to be outside of this group, I wonder what the eventual effects maybe. I am not considering older people in this though process because I find it unlikely that people with decades of human interaction would reject that notion after 1.5 years of somewhat isolation. But maybe I am wrong and this effect may effect them to a lesser or similar degree.
I will begin anecdotally, purely as an example. Now when I interact with people in ways that were once unsafe, I am fully vaccinated, I feel as if I am doing something wrong. I can’t seem to overcome the idea that I am able to see people face to face. I can’t imagine what it will be like entering public buildings without a mask. I don’t know if I can ever undo the thought of being wary of densely packed areas.
I am speculating that this may not be a individual effect but possibly a wide one. I feel as if I can shift back as I am not too young but I wondering if this could become permanent in a younger person. Could the pandemic permanently have alter human desire to socially interact? One reason I think this effect would be much more effective than in 1918 is there are other ways to interact with people and to entertain oneself.
I will spend this last paragraph walking back on the proposition of the comment. I believe the conclusion I suggest is a quite radical look at effects of the pandemic and possibly thinking of effects that would result from a longer lasting isolation. And going back to the topic of the blog, could this proposition, if true, lead to more people choosing online schools to avoid social interactions?
As a freshman completing my first year of college entirely remote I completely agree that remote learning feels businesslike and lacks human connection whether it be between individual students or students and their professors. Without the relationship between the student and their professor and interactions with other students it’s much harder to value the coursework or the knowledge. I didn’t realize until this year how much I learn just from the interactions with others in class, rather than from exams or readings. Especially as an out of state student forced to pay insane amounts for my education it feels like all I’m paying for is a ticket into corporate America rather than actual knowledge or connections that I’m supposed to get out of college. While the university sends out messages emphasizing their support I don’t know a single student who feels fully connected to the university or has gotten all of the resources and help they need. Without the relationships with professors it’s also very easy to blame the issues with remote learning on instructors. However, this post makes it clear that both students and professors are suffering from this arrangement.
I think that this article really shed some light on a few issues that have rose in prominence from the COVID-19 pandemic. From over a year into the lockdown, many of the criticisms still hold, though the consequences from both the pandemic and the general corporatization of the school system is not finished and likely will not finish within the next few years. From both a personal level and from what I could surmise as general public view, the separation from a student, the professor, and actual learning has been made even worse within the lockdown. In addition, the economic struggles many students and faculty undertook in part came from policies put in place by high ranking people with lacking consideration to their issues.
Another insight that I hadn’t considered before I read this article was how many of the shifts have been made to the detriment of students, faculty, and other workers. I’ve heard many discussions on how certain aspects of “pandemic life” could be repurposed to improve our lives, such as how remote learning could be utilized in brief periods to help alleviate students’ and faculties’ stress. However, much rarer were discussions on how those policies negatively affected people (at least on more than a personal level), such as how they lead to reduced staff salaries and diminished job safety. Or how discussion with others, an integral part of genuine learning, was greatly reduced.
The turn from a university being a place for learning to just a branch in employment is also an important thought. From the times where I was in grade school, college has always been told as “the next step”, with one of the more cynical reasons told being that it was necessary to succeed in life, which has some merit. As a result, many aspects of the system (from the tests that are required to have a chance at high school to attendance of the university itself) are used to reap the most profits, and negatively affects those who cannot pay up (or who are unfortunate). It doesn’t have the easiest solution, but it is also undeniably a problem, especially as online learning would cause a worse situation, but more profits. Overall, I agree that there are many issues that have come up with the pandemic that need to be known.
It is occasions such as this that let us see the true nature of what the university system hopes to accomplish. The part I found most surprising is that the transition to remote learning was not a smooth one. The universities mentioned above pride themselves in giving the most support necessary to any student that may need it, but are quick to turn away and leave them with no homes or resources. To top it all of there doesn’t seem to be any adjustment to tuition prices or financial aid to compensate for any technology or resources that must be purchased as part of remote. Although it is important that the health of all be taken to account the circumstance at hand should not be taken as an opportunity to increase profits for all schools nationwide.
I have personal troubles with online learning, and it does not help that my computer does not connect to WiFi half the time for some reason. I, like most others, find it ridiculous that tuition is the same as it would be if we were at school, and am aware that many students probably cannot afford great computers or other materials they may need; however, I did not know that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I find it very surprising that UCLA has taken this as an opportunity to bring in less experienced teachers – part of the reasoning behind why I chose to go here was the opportunity to be teached by experts of their fields. This article, though it is very informative and I am glad I read it, is quite depressing, to say the least.
Hi Professor! This article reminds me of an opinion reading I did for a cultural geography class about universities acting as country clubs. Especially in COVID times, I feel as though the old ways of running an institution are largely unreasonable. As a freshman who recently went through the college process, I choose my school mostly on financial grounds as I am paying for most of my tuition. I think that private university tuition is absurd, particularly when a global pandemic keeps students home. I feel as though COVID is going to change the realities of colleges and the exorbitant costs
As this is a subject that hits rather close to home due to my personal situation, I have very conflicted feelings on remote learning.
First off, as a disabled student who struggles with physical mobility and, as a result, accessibility on the UCLA campus, remote learning is both a curse and a blessing in disguise. The ability to tune in to class, regardless of location, is wonderful for those who have difficulty with attendance or for those who find moving about such a large campus an impediment due to their physical limitations. On the other hand, as an individual who already struggles with absences, the growing gap between professor and student is disconcerting; when classes were in-person communicating needed accommodations to one’s professor was much easier and more personal.
Secondly, the tone deaf nature with which educational administrations, including UCLA’s, have responded to nontraditional students during the switch to “remote learning” feels like a return to form with the “gatekeeping” that institutions have been moving away from. Expecting students to be able to mimic the level and consistency of an academic setting in their home lives is a thoughtless and rather obtuse way of thinking. Life is not standardized. As a nontraditional and disabled student, I am confused as to how anyone could expect me to keep my camera on when I am in the hospital, or pay fees for on-campus facilities (none of which can be utilized in a remote learning environment), or deduct points for participation and attendance because I don’t always have access to a computer due to my financial situation. Since when should one’s economic situation play such an important role in one’s educational outcomes? And yes, this problem has existed since long before COVID but what the pandemic has done is shown an ugly light on academia’s apparent disinterest in addressing such problems in a prompt and resonable fashion.
The manner in which UCLA has handled remote learning leaves much to be desired and, even in light of the added strain that it will put on me physically, I for one am rather glad that courses will resume in person next quarter.
It is no surprise that the COVID pandemic has forced and accelerated the systemic digitalization of university instruction and effectively replaced the traditional face-to-face modes of learning. Though I disagree strongly with the notion, brought forth mainly by staunch conservatives, that remote learning was not the correct response to the pandemic, I do understand your point about how this further exposes the capitalist roots of the American university system. Remote learning has dramatically increased competition in the digital environment and has consequently pressured the top universities across the nation—UCLA being one of them—to find ways to offer an innovative learning experience. And as you mentioned explicitly, this competitive atmosphere produces inequality within the learning milieu: inequality has deepened, upward mobility abruptly stalled, and millions of college students are forced to embrace an educational experience based strictly on operational capacity. These are most certainly unfortunate circumstances, but that does not discount the fact that remote learning has protected public health and the collective good. Sure, it did distance faculty from students, an imperative relationship in academia. But I think this article seems to emphasize educational opportunity more than public health. Remote learning, in the early days of COVID-19, was a necessity that was rightly exercised by universities to protect students. Educational opportunity, as fundamental as it is to the future of college students, does not trump the former in any measure or degree.
The first interesting point here is where you connect America’s exceptionalism to the universities’ transition to remote learning. I was also aware of the problem, and had some international friends who were suddenly thrown into a severe predicament. One of my friends from China couldn’t go back to his country but also had a hard time finding a job to secure his house with secure internet to do remote learning. However, I never thought deeply about the mechanism behind it while being indignant about it. You placing it within a context that America does not care about other countries’ affair was an interesting perspective, and made me want to examine more.
As you predicted, the pandemic has made us re-interrogate the meaning of going to a college. This couldn’t be more relevant for me as an international student. I pay nearly eight times expensive tuition that I would have if I went to a college in my home country. This is also a hot topic that I bring up while conversing with other students from outside the U.S. Resumed in-person instruction taught me the value of studying at such an institution: it is the connection that I make with the faculties and professor that truely worth the costly tuition. I go to an office hour of a sociology professor nearly every week. There, I have tea and cup-noodle with other keen sociology upperclassmen. The invigorating conversations about theories, methods, self-directed research is really inspiring. I feel like the best life decision could only be made through these kind of conversatoins — casual, but still centered around a passion for the same field.