On Who Matters – and Who Doesn’t – in Higher Education

As COVID-19 continues to devastate communities across the U.S., colleges and universities must brace for what is sure to be a hectic Autumn semester, including making difficult decisions that may put many lives on the line. In some instances, institutions are committing to online-only classes in order to not risk the spread of the disease. In other instances, institutions remain committed to continuing operations in-person, albeit with certain restrictions put in place. However, recent announcements have shed new, though not unexpected, light on the topic: In making these decisions, whose lives matter?

In early July, the University of Texas at Austin – an institution set on holding in-person classes in the Autumn despite already having a minor coronavirus outbreak during a Spring Break trip in April – announced its plans for Autumn semester and detailed a list of scenarios that would cause mid-semester closure. Prominent on this list was in the case of a student death due to COVID-19 – student death, not faculty, staff, or otherwise.

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