Eminent professor: Colleges must shut for rest of 2020

Eminent professor: Colleges must shut for rest of 2020


norman lebrecht

May 14, 2020

William G. Tierney, Professor Emeritus for Higher Education at the University of Southern California, presents this personal view in THES. It has direct implications for music schools and performing industries:

Higher education as we know it is approaching economic collapse. I appreciate the frantic gestures college presidents are making to prevent their own campuses from failing. Many intend to open their campuses for the fall term and avoid economic ruin. It is the wrong call.

Even the most optimistic of epidemiologists have two opinions about the remaining months of 2020: mass gatherings should be prohibited, and people over 55 and/or with pre-existing conditions should continue to stay indoors. We also know that individuals under 25 are least likely to become sick with the coronavirus and are most likely to flout requests to stay indoors, wear masks and avoid public places such as beaches and parks….

Until we have clear and certain benchmarks that our campuses are COVID-19-free, here are [] parameters of what needs to happen:

– Do not require anyone over 55 years old and those who are immunocompromised to come to campus until 2021. Although anyone can catch the virus, those who are most at risk of serious illness are individuals over 55 and those who are immunocompromised. To require those individuals to gather in any public areas is to risk personal and public safety. All staff members over 55 should continue working from home. Close to 40 percent of tenure-track faculty are over 55….

Read on here.



  • Doug says:

    Welcome to the Matriarchy©

    • SSD says:

      Huh? Countries led by women have actually managed this crisis better than their male counterparts. But I have no idea what your comment means.

      • Women Leaders Rock says:

        America needs Tulsi Gabbard as president. Only she can beat Trump

      • Saxon Broken says:

        SSD writes: “Countries led by women have actually managed this crisis better than their male counterparts”

        Er? It won’t be apparent which countries have managed the crisis well for a few years. For example, did Sweden or Denmark do better?

        [I think we can safely say Brazil’s president has done badly.]

  • Nick says:

    Higher education is going to be decimated. The only thing keeping higher education afloat is the in person experience. The knowledge they offer is now readily available at very high levels online, or at community colleges, at a fraction of the cost. Courage will eventually be needed, especially from institutions primarily made up of young people, the one group whose Covid death rates are far below 1%. Those hoping and waiting for a vaccine to emerge from the shelter of their homes may wait forever; a vaccine is not guaranteed, and has never been developed for any other other coronavirus or others like AIDS. Even if it is developed, how long until it is distributed to billions around the world? Years?

    • Bill says:

      Yes, the knowledge is available online, but as we can see through the glory of the Internet, it means nothing without someone with expertise in a field and an organized rigorous and disciplined method to disseminate it and teach it in the context of critical thought. Otherwise, it’s just more BS open to whatever interpretation your worldview and the presenter demands.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    If one actually reads the article, they’ll see the headline is somewhat inaccurate and maybe even a little extreme/sensationalist. I’m ashamed to admit I fell for such “clickbait.”

  • John Rook says:

    Part of the problem is that so many in the US are obese. This does not help in their fight against the virus.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      Ah if only everyone were ripped and toned Gym Bunnies. How much healthier the world would be. Not to say purer in body if not in thought!

      • John Rook says:

        No need to be a ripped gym bunny. Just don’t eat crap and get some normal exercise.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Healthy doesn’t mean “ripped and toned”, those who are, are often surprisingly unfit. Fit means the following:

        1. At normal walking speed can you walk a mile in: (a) 12 mins; (b) under 15 mins; (c) under 20 mins; (d) more than 20 mins.

        2. Can you stand on one-leg without over-balancing for: (a) 2 minutes; (b) 30 seconds; (c) 5 seconds; (d) less than 5 seconds.

        If you are healthy and fit you will be able to do (b) in both cases (doing a means you are very healthy). Average walking speed is a mile in about 17 minutes. That is OK-ish, but you should think about some exercise (just a brisk walk for 20 minutes is fine, you don’t need to go to the gym). If you are in category (d) in either case, then you have a medical issue.

        The ability to deal with Covid-19, or other viruses, will depend on this kind of fitness.

  • Stay and Teach from Home says:

    This is why those over 55 should stay home and teach via video conference while those who are younger and have their lives ahead of them should be allowed to return and learn on campus!

  • Thomas Dawkins says:

    As the campus where I work begins to discuss how re-opening would take place, I think that they’re going to realize that it isn’t going to be possible to adequately distance people and have anywhere for classes to meet. The chapel, for instance, normally has a capacity of about 300 people. With 2m around every person, it could hold a maximum of 50. With about 6,000 undergraduates, there simply isn’t enough space.

  • Brian says:

    Over 55 that is discriminating. Some of us live till over 100

  • Tamino says:

    Not everybody who feels he or she wants to speak out on this subject also should.
    It’s futile for anyone, particularly non-scientist, to predict anything beyond the scope of a couple of weeks in this fluid situation.

    • Bill says:

      And scientists are predicting an even worse situation this winter if social distancing measures are not maintained.

      • engineers_unite says:

        This is utter BS.
        You must belong to the “it is worse than we thought” school, like the climate loonies like saint Greta.

        Chicken-Little the sky is falling!

        “We also know that individuals under 25 are least likely to become sick with the coronavirus”.

        They have almost certainly already had it, remaining entirely assymptomatic.
        From Der Erikson’s stats from actual testing the official figures are most certainly fake.

        People who actually work in the medical profession have found 40-80x more have been infected than actually are shown in the stats, up to 93% totally assymptomatic. (as they found in some US prisons).

        This implies a total official case count of 1,476,201 today x 40.
        Which means something of the order of 40 million Americans have already had different strains of the WUFLU using a very conservative figure.

        This explains why the case rate is dropping in every single country in the world, – as Sweden has just proven, who let their young people enjoy their early spring in the streets.
        Why? because herd immunity is close to being achieved.

        So, the whole stupid premise of locking down every single venue down until WHY NOT 2025(??!), is utter TOSH.

        It’s stupid unscientific nonsense designed to scare the crap out of people, from “fear of the unknown”.
        The mass media have got so used to treating people fit only for brainwashing, they only fear people who think.

        This is why I will once again see huge numbers of thumbs downs here, cos people in denial DO NOT THINK.
        It is always too painful to question why you might have been conned.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Certainly 40 million Americans having caught the virus is a good guess (we don’t know for sure). I think 25-30 million is a bit more likely, but again, that is only an educated guess.

          Herd immunity may well be close to being achieved in the Tri-state area, but it is unlikely elsewhere in the US. Overall, herd immunity in the US will likely require something like 150 million to get the virus. And even your estimate suggests we are a long way from achieving that.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Bill writes: “And scientists are predicting an even worse situation this winter if social distancing measures are not maintained.”

        Err. This isn’t really true. No-one is too sure what will happen this winter, and there are a range of views. Even among scientists. But if relatively few people have caught the virus, then there is a good chance that returning to pre-Covid-19 normality will see cases start rising again in Europe. But this depends on how many people caught it first time round, and the extent to which people have changed their behaviour.

    • Craig says:

      The scientists haven’t all done a great job either. But just because no one has a perfect crystal ball doesn’t mean planning can’t take place. And indeed it should. If I were running an institution that relied on large numbers of people attending in person, I’d be going through every scenario. With enough good minds doing that, perhaps there will be some creative solutions that would never occur if everyone just sat quietly until when or if a scientist figured it out?

    • Anon says:

      Agreed. And, if you recall, you’ve come a long way from one of your earlier posts:

      March 7, 2020
      Indeed. 18.000 – eighteen thousand – people have died of regular flue in the US this season.
      17 – seventeen – so far from the Corona virus.
      Thats a ratio of roughly thousand to one. (probably more will die of Corona, but still)
      It’s a mass hysteria. Possibly social engineering. But probably just the momentum of social media out of control. The society is totally nuts. Reasonable voices are simply drowning in the shitstorm of ignorance, idiocy and stupid nonsense.

      • engineers_unite says:

        Yep thank goodness there’s someone else on here speaking common sense.

        (a pity it’s not so common!)

        • Anon says:

          I usually skip your comments when I see your name, but I have to correct you here, engineers unite. You completely missed my point. If you look carefully, you’ll realize that was Tamino’s comment from March. He has changed his tune since then. We’d have to ask him whether it was the overflowing corpses or something else that caused him to take a more humane stance.

          I saw a t-shirt once that said something like, “I’m an engineer, so to save time, let’s just assume I’m right about everything.” You probably know the reference. Your rants might be better suited to a blog for engineers, rather than this one, where nearly everyone thinks you’re a piece of shit.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Tamino’s comments were silly then and silly now. It was clear from the beginning it was a bit more dangerous than the flu (how much more was unclear). However, it is not quite as dangerous as feared 6 weeks ago.

            Although Engineer is wilfully offensive, not everyone is sitting at home, reading John the Revelator, and waiting for the end of the world. His underlying point is definitely defendable.

            What is clear, is that maintaining the lockdown for several years while we wait/hope for a vaccine really isn’t a viable policy.

          • engineers_unite says:

            “nearly everyone thinks you’re a piece of shit.”
            Speak for yourself.

            I actually don’t care if you want to make a fool of yourself in public.
            SHOOT THE MESSENGER seems fine by Lebrecht.

            NASA (challenger disaster).

            Einstein was more convinced of Human stupidity being infinite than the universe.

            Take another hint:-

            “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

  • Matti Raekallio says:

    Maybe the schools should reconsider admitting so many international students. There needs to be some incentive for US citizens…

    Apparently it IS a huge risk when 75% of the school is international.

    What it really is becoming is a tax-shelter for foreign corporation.

    Not to mention the ghastly amount of corruption in the college admission process as well.

    • Cynical Bystander says:

      I think the virus you are succumbing to here has been around for much longer than Covid and has claimed many more lives whilst determining who does and does not have the right to be acceptable.

    • Bill says:

      American schools need the money international students bring in.

      America used to have a robust system of State Universities that were well funded so that students could afford to attend university at low cost.

      But we’ve spent the past 40 years slashing university subsidies and handing the money and tax cuts off to corporations and the wealthy. They tell us the wealthy will “trickle down” the wealth better the state will. It’s 40 years: any day now, maybe us peons will see that trickle finally appear. Any day now…

      • Common Sense says:

        The problem is pensions, a student loan system that incentivizes waste, and institutional bloat.

        Cut the admin costs and 300K/yr “Deans of Diversity” – and bring back a more spartan model of campus life focused purely on education…and we can provide better education for pennies on the dollar.

        Tax funding is decidedly NOT the problem…some of the highest per capita education spending in the world goes to failing schools…the old world model of education that featured austerity is the way of the future.

        Spend less, get more.

  • fflambeau says:

    Sorry, I disagree.

    I think higher ed can reopen this year through a combination of online teaching (no physical presence) and regular teaching. Older profs and staffs do need more protection so online for them only; maybe a focus on their research; later opening of universities; face masks required of students, faculty and staff. Universities will need to ramp up testing so everyone is tested on a weekly basis.

    I do think some timelines should be pushed back: no university to open before the end of September or so.

    I also think sports offers the greatest opportunity for the virus to spread so I would ban large gatherings (no Fall football or basketball; no contact sports at all).

    Unfortunately, concerts (music) present most of the same problems as sports and will need special measures: openings delayed, massive testing, perhaps ‘virtual’ instruction for the Fall and ‘virtual’ performances too.

    • Common Sense says:

      testing is a canard…this is a highly contagious virus…you will never be able to test “everyone” or ever really be secure in eliminating risk.

      We need to reopen society, and let individuals and institutions find their path. These shutdowns are ruinous. And quite likely useless. The virus is already out there…the time to lockdown and test/contact trace was back in January. Testing only makes sense at the very beginning of an outbreak.

      We need to recover our nerve, and get back out there…I suspect once that does happen, we will look back at the hysteria and blush.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        Certainly no country can track and trace the huge number of people getting the virus every day (even in Britain 30-50,000 each day). And has no means to ensure that those traced adhere to any quarantine.

  • Rich Patina says:

    All this because of corporate shills in lab coats running amok. Folks, we don’t have to buy into the fear that they are peddling. Their worst-case scenarios are something that COULD happen but likely won’t.

    Now take off that stupid mask and give us a big smile!

    • Bill says:

      You go first, tough guy. I promise to say nice things about you at your funeral.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      “corporate shills in lab coats”

      The people doing the advising have no financial benefit from any lockdown. Comments like yours are just absurd.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    “– Do not require anyone over 55 years old and those who are immunocompromised to come to campus until 2021. Although anyone can catch the virus, those who are most at risk of serious illness are individuals over 55 and those who are immunocompromised. To require those individuals to gather in any public areas is to risk personal and public safety.”

    I wrote an ironic and badly received comment here earlier regarding when opera and theatre auditoriums might open, clearly not capturing the continuing mood of the moment. But this, to me extremely chilling statement, seems to confirm a mood that will make some of what I said a very harsh reality.

    The last sentence about ‘the risk to personal and public safety and the singling out of the over 55 years as a real and lethal threat not only to themselves but the wider community equates to me to identifying this group, into which I suspect many of us here fall, as the equivalent of plague carriers which would be rightly condemned if it were used to define some other demographic.

    This pandemic is unlikely to come to an end within some of the more optimistic timeframes being talked about elsewhere, but equally if talk like this is not confronted then it will never end. A secondary infection rise in the Autumn, the ‘normal’ flu outbreak in the Winter. Continuing reporting of localised illness. And so it goes on until nothing remains but suspicion of groups stigmatised by age, disability or ethnicity who are to be in effect locked away as much for everyone elses protection as their own.

    In the 55 age group will be many singer, actors and audiences who may find their careers and theatre going at an end due to a date on a calendar and the fear that they are a threat to the wider community merely by dint of their age.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      There is some evidence in Britain that rates of infection and severe illness are higher among Black people. Would anyone here advise that Black people should be locked up at home while White people are allowed out?

      Aside: to be clear, I would find that offensive.

  • Frankie says:

    If he’s going to wait until campuses are guaranteed covid-19-free he’s going to have to wait a very long time. Perhaps forever!

  • A B says:

    And what will be suddenly better in January. 2021? Waiting until things are “safe” means NEVER. For most of the students and faculty, their commute to campus has greater odds of fatality and harm than Covid. This is just stupid.

    Covid is here to stay, and there will be no vaccine in January. Are you afraid to catch it? ok – stay home. Let the rest of us get on with it.

  • SVM says:

    Tierney seems to have overlooked one-to-one and small-group teaching in his analysis. It may well be the case that such activities could be conducted in person, whilst in-person lectures with big audiences may remain off the table. What is required is a nuanced, detailed, and evidence-based discussion about what should be deemed acceptable risks and what should remain unacceptable for the time being. What makes this so complicated is that each individual will have a different concept of what risks he/she finds acceptable personally, and yet his/her own actions also bear upon the risk to others.

    Personally, I think any age-based discrimination cannot be legally binding on those advised to take a higher level of caution (because, as soon as you impose age-based discrimination, the principal rationale changes from “for the greater good of society” to “for your own safety”), but could be legally binding on employers (e.g.: an employer cannot compel an older employee to come to work in person, but an older employee is entitled to do so voluntarily, provided that an employer cannot treat him/her less favourably should he/she follow the age-specific advice to stay at home).