Originally published June 26, 2020.
Dear University Community,
Since we first announced our plans to reopen this fall (a far too early decision given the lack of reliable data about the likely prevalence of COVID-19 in the fall, but done out of necessity to beat the June 1st National College Decision Day deadline), many students, parents, faculty, and staff have asked us how we plan to ensure that we reopen safely. Our strategy is outlined below, but the short answer is this: Our university will proceed as if everything will be okay because we really, really want it to be.
After measuring classrooms and examining our antiquated ventilation systems, our staff (those who haven’t been furloughed) reports that there’s absolutely no way our already scheduled and enrolled classes can safely fit in those spaces. But our university has always valued creative problem-solving, so we have posted NO COVID-19 ALLOWED PAST THIS POINT signs on the doors of every campus building. Plus, to show how seriously we take the situation, the signs have been laminated.
All dormitories have been thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and all residents will be given a single room. We ask that after students move in, they make frequent use of our hand sanitizer stations, get in and out of bed on the same side every day, and flick their light switches on and off exactly seven times when they enter or exit a room.
When they arrive on campus, all students will receive a welcome package containing a face mask branded with our university logo, a rabbit’s foot, a horseshoe, an evil-eye charm, a Maneki-neko, a crucifix, and a bulb of garlic. We know some of that stuff is for vampires, but you can never be too careful.
We admit this one’s a toughie. How can we feed thousands of students while limiting the number of surfaces they touch and maintaining social distancing, all while they remove their face masks in order to, you know, eat?
As our currently laid-off professor of Italian might say, mangia al fresco! We’re thrilled to announce that all meals will be served outdoors as pre-packaged picnics. Yes, there is scientific disagreement on whether the virus is less likely to spread in warmer weather, and whether the benefits of open air are canceled out by large crowds. But our university has boldly decided to believe only the theories that we like: that is, being outside is fine, warm weather kills the virus, and if before each meal we hum David Bowie’s “Heroes” while hopping on our left feet, we can never get sick.
Many students suffer from anxiety and depression, and the numbers of students struggling with these and other issues are expected to increase dramatically in the wake of the pandemic. Before coronavirus, we primarily dealt with student mental health challenges by nodding sympathetically and directing students to our overbooked and understaffed Wellness Center, where they were unable to schedule an appointment with one of our few counselors. Starting next semester, we will enhance that policy with the addition of a magic wand made from the exhumed bones of our university’s founder. A receptionist (currently furloughed) will wave the wand over the student’s head while chanting, “The Founder cures thee, get over it, get over it.”
Just as we lovingly worship the virus-killing Good Fairy of Summer, so too we fear the virus-nurturing Bad Fairy of Winter. Accordingly, we will be ending our fall semester early, just before Thanksgiving, and beginning our spring semester in mid-March. Why these dates? Are they random? Are we trying to avoid holidays in which students might travel and possibly carry back contagion, or working to appease a variety of pagan gods? Probably yes to all of these.
What are our administrators doing to help? Rest assured, they’re determined to make any sacrifice (short of salary reductions that would go to benefit faculty and staff whose positions have been cut) until we make it through this crisis. Our Provost shreds every new issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education and uses the scraps to construct remarkably accurate effigies of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which she then smashes and burns while sobbing. Our Dean of Libraries has been using her formidable research skills to locate monkeys’ paws, magical fish, and other wish-granting entities. And our President has chained his first-born child on the shores of our nearby lake as an offering to the great and terrible Kraken.
We can’t wait to welcome our new and returning students to campus this fall. In the meantime, please don’t consider the reality that while we say our campus will be open and in-person, it’s likely that many classes will still be conducted partly or wholly online. And for the love of Ishtar, please don’t consider that under these pedagogically questionable and potentially dangerous circumstances, your student might be better off taking a gap year. Don’t let the bad thoughts in; the future of our university literally depends on thinking only good thoughts!
Oh, and when you arrive on campus, be sure to visit our new four-leaf clover garden, located where the Performing Arts Center used to be!
The Vice President for Magical Thinking
Read an interview with Juliana Gray about the inspiration for writing this piece.