On March 12, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Bruce Suttmeier finally put out a statement outlining the college’s plans to return to fully in-person learning for Fall 2021. I believe the administration is on the right side of the issue by going this route. Coming exactly 366 days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the statement provides a glimmer of hope for a campus of Zoom-fatigued undergraduates.
The announcement is a sign that life might return to something resembling normal soon. The Bon has started to bring back plates (paper, but still) at brunch, all adult Oregonians will be eligible for the vaccine starting April 19, and the sun is out more than it is not.
In-person classes are essential at Lewis & Clark, not only in the classroom where students spend most of their time socializing, but also in enrollment efforts since our intimate class sizes are an attractive feature for prospective students. The LC website advertises an 11:1 faculty to student ratio and boasts an average class size of 18. However, online classes have caused this model to go out the window. I am currently in a class populated with 75 students that was supposed to be capped at 40, and another, previously capped at 35, now holds 47 Zoom squares.
This (admittedly anecdotal) evidence, along with the status of my other two classes, leaves me with a student to faculty ratio of 41:1 this semester, more than three times what the college advertises and what I am paying for. Students pay a premium for a liberal arts education for just that reason: to get a liberal arts education, defined on the LC website as one in which your classes are “grounded in critical thinking, written and verbal communication, teamwork, and problem-solving.”
I am not blaming the LC administration for failing to reach this goal these past two semesters, and I am certainly not blaming the extraordinarily hardworking faculty. However, this is simply not a sustainable model to achieve on Zoom. It is much easier on Zoom to accommodate one extra box than it is to fit an extra physical desk in a classroom, so classes end up being much larger than they otherwise would be because professors are inclined to take most if not all of the students off the waitlist. While this helps students meet their academic requirements, it means less participation time per student per class, less individual attention from the professor and more students competing for slots during office hours.
Returning to in-person classes in the fall will begin to make up for some of the discussion and collaboration time that was lost this year, as well as re-up our promises to the incoming class of 2025. After experiencing online school for two and a half semesters now, I believe the opportunity to attend classes in person is truly a gift and not one we should take lightly.
This is not to say that LC should completely forgo COVID-19 protocols and restrictions when students come back for the fall semester. In fact, I believe the opposite is true.
LC was only able to make this decision because Multnomah County and the LC community have been so diligent in following the governor’s COVID-19 guidelines. We have maintained our campus bubble infinitely better than I expected, reporting only nine positive tests on campus for the entirety of this spring semester so far. There is no reason why we should be unable to continue masking in public areas and social distancing while indoors in the fall.
Lastly, there is no evidence that, without taking basic safety precautions such as masking, there is an increased spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, and we have succeeded in conducting many hybrid classes this semester. All of this combined with increased vaccination rates in Multnomah County points to a return to in-person learning being a safe and smart move for the fall.
So I say to all the students that will be returning to campus for classes next semester: be nervous, be excited, but most of all be grateful that we at LC will get to leave Zoomlandia behind and emerge once again into the real(ish) world.This article presents opinions held by the author, not those of The Pioneer Log, its editorial board or those interviewed for background information.