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Do Colleges & Universities have a PR Problem... Or Is Is The Students?

In the last week to 10 days, as millions of students across the country have returned to college in the new era of a global pandemic, there has been another sort of plague on campus. Hubris. The question is, as more stories emerge about colleges having to make difficult decisions about whether to go to remote learning or lock down dorms with curfews, is the hubris on the part of the colleges and universities themselves or is it solely with the students? Because depending on which entity you fault, somebody’s got a public relations issue after a spate of parties have led to disciplinary actions. * At Syracuse University, 23 students were suspended following a large outdoor gathering that might have “done damage enough to shut down camps,” school officials said. * At Marist College in New York, 15 students were suspended after an off-campus party. Their full-time status is pending. * 36 Purdue University students were suspended for attending a party that violated school guidelines for returning to campus. * At Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, 14 students were banned from the school's campus for two weeks after they allegedly violated the school's no-party rule. And so on, and so on, and so on. But do you fault the colleges? One has to wonder if the motivating factor for reopening was the hundreds of millions of dollars – and that’s being conservative – that colleges lost from last spring having to refund students for their room and board after closing up and resorting to online learning from mid-March to end of May. Only the 1 or 2 percent of the biggest and most prestigious universities could survive another semester of such losses. And part and parcel of their plans to reopen this year, despite taking extraordinary measures for the health and safety of students with face masks and social distancing and going virtual for some classes, was the simple fact that, ultimately, they had to rely on the students to make it work. And, well, at 18, 19, 20, 21 do you remember how you were? How full of hubris that age is? How much they harbor a ‘It’s not going to happen to me’ attitude? Either way, this is not a good look.

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