Will Colleges Become ‘Big Brother’ in the Fall?

May 26, 2020

With more colleges and universities announcing they’ll be opening in the fall, Susan Stone and Kristina Supler explore the steps being taken to protect students from COVID-19 and the impact this might have on campus life, including social events and gatherings. Will colleges become a police state?

Susan Stone:                    We’re back with Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. And today’s topic is going to be, will colleges become Big Brother when they reopen in the fall? What do you think, Kristina?

Kristina Supler:                I have to confess, every morning when I turn on the news, I am eager to see the latest announcements, what schools are and are not going to be open in the fall. Recently, Notre Dame, NYU they’ve announced that they’re opening. And so those schools are now being faced with the question, what measures are you going to put in place to protect students and faculty members and staff from COVID?

Susan Stone:                    The measures are really interesting. Some of them that I’ve read are fever checkpoints at building entrances, obviously requiring face mask rules in classrooms. However, some are getting really wacky creating one-way walking paths across quads. I’m trying to imagine what the robots are going to look like single filing it.

Kristina Supler:                It’s not that wacky though. I mean, I know that’s what I experience when I go to the grocery store every week, the one way lanes. So I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s just the new norm and we’re all adjusting to what our post COVID world looks like.

Susan Stone:                    The new rules that I’ve been reading about sound great on paper, but I’m wondering, as we always say in practicing law, the devil’s in the details, will students be allowed to go on road trips and return back to campus or even go home for weekends to get their laundry done?

Kristina Supler:                You also have to think about sporting events. I mean, football games, basketball games, hockey sports, that’s a huge part of the college experience.

Susan Stone:                    Right now, they’re anticipating that those events will all be canceled, but what does that mean for actually normal campus life?

Kristina Supler:                And social events and gatherings? I mean, are students going to sneak people into their dorm rooms and have parties shrouded in secrecy?

Susan Stone:                    What about students who might take Tylenol in the morning and try to pass a checkpoint to cheat, whether they have a temperature or not?

Kristina Supler:                Something tells me students aren’t going to be trying to fake their way into class, probably the other way around, but you never know.

Susan Stone:                    Well, they’re saying that they’re going to offer online options so students who do get sick, don’t have to go to class. But how will that work? Half staying in their dorm room online, half attending class. I just, the synergy of the experience is going to be upside down in my opinion.

Kristina Supler:                I’ve also heard of some colleges and universities setting up whole dorms that will be dorms specifically intended as quarantine sites so that students who get sick will move into a certain building on campus with other six students and lie low for however many days, 14 days, perhaps longer in this single dorm room.

Susan Stone:                    And that’s dependent on will the testing be accurate? Can you imagine if your son or daughter is sent to the COVID dorm and it’s a normal flu? I can’t imagine. What I’m worried about is will colleges become a police state? Are we going to have extra campus security being deployed to catch people violating rules?

Kristina Supler:                How could there not be heightened rules? And a rule is essentially meaningless if it’s not enforced. I mean, as an initial matter, it seems like schools are going to require liability waivers or releases for students who come back on campus, meaning you sign something saying that, “I want to come back and I’m not going to hold the school responsible if I get sick. I can’t sue you.”

Susan Stone:                    If those waivers are enforceable, perhaps that’s a better way of managing risk than creating a social construct that inhibits the free flow of socialization and ideas. I’m wondering if students will be encouraged to report violators and instead of a fraternity big brother, will Big Brother really be watching you? I mean, is 2020 the new 1984?

Kristina Supler:                If you think about it, there’s going to be the legal issues that play out. But there’s also going to be, I wonder, I think there will be COVID-shaming.

Susan Stone:                    Instead of slut-shaming, COVID-shaming?

Kristina Supler:                That’s right. I mean, it’s what’s going to happen when there’s hookups and parties. And how will students respond to those who are, or not following the health and safety protocols that the schools are asking for? Like wearing masks and so on and so forth?

Susan Stone:                    Well, we’ve blogged about wearing masks and the new consent laws and regulations that are going to have to go in place in light of COVID. But this is going to take it to a new level.

Kristina Supler:                I mean, if you think about it, it’s really what does this look like in reality and how does it play out? And at the heart of that is-

Susan Stone:                    Is it worth it?

Kristina Supler:                Is it worth it? Yeah.

Susan Stone:                    Is it worth it?

Kristina Supler:                Well, some school’s better than no school. As student attorneys, I think we all believe that we want our kids to be in an educational environment and this is the time we’re all making sacrifices. As crazy as it sounds, I vote yes. Your vote?

Susan Stone:                    I vote yes. I think part of school is an academic experience, but also a social experience and an emotional experience.

Kristina Supler:                So guys, get ready to go back. Take your mask, take your thermometer and stay safe.


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