A new social contract has been written this semester. It was drafted by the administration when they made the decision to hold in-person classes. As students accepted the offer to return to campus, the contract was sealed. But it was built on a shaky foundation of uncertainty and lack of precedence, and as case numbers continue to rise, the contract’s fragility is being revealed. Augustana is watching as the contract’s validity is tested by protocols that are not universally followed, a tense political climate and students’ desires for freedom and social interaction.
We don’t envy the decision makers, and we understand that operating a university in the middle of a global pandemic has to be one of the greatest challenges administrators have faced. Augustana’s situation is difficult, and the reason for the new contract is valid. But just as administration has called for flexibility from our community, those that wrote the contract need to listen and adapt to the students on the other end of the agreement.
We also understand the financial implications of the pandemic — enrollment dropped nearly 9% from last fall, a loss of between $1.5 million to $2 million for the university. That doesn’t include the revenue lost after students were given refunds for room and board last semester. Returning to campus brought a sense of security and provided the university with a familiar structure on which to prop itself and its increased financial burdens.
But as the school year progresses, we urge administration to remain honest and focused. Augustana has big dreams for 2030, but it’s imperative that we continue to concentrate on making it through 2020 before turning our sights to the next decade. Our university still needs to push for growth, but we won’t successfully flourish in the next ten years if our foundation collapses now. We run the risk of Vision 2030 becoming tunnel vision, especially if we lose sight of the broader scope of the pandemic.
Just as much as administration needs to take responsibility, so do Augustana students. By deciding to return to campus, students willingly agreed to heed the new precautions put in place for our community’s safety. And we know, a month in, that the rules aren’t always being followed. We also know that it can be hard to return to college without many of the social aspects that fill our free time. For the past six months, we’ve had warnings about the pandemic thrown at us, desensitizing us to the reality of our situation. But the necessity to be safe is just as important now as it was March, especially as positive cases continue to spike in South Dakota.
The effects of this new contract extend beyond the administration and the students. The Augustana faculty and staff have been caught in the middle, left with the responsibility to sanitize rooms and the need to be flexible as students drop in and out of classes. We appreciate our professors and staff for doing their part to keep us on campus. But their efforts will prove futile if we don’t all pitch in.
As we head into our second month back at Augustana, the decision to remain shouldn’t be based on finances or politics. It should be informed by our morals. There’s too much at stake to let our judgement be clouded.
If we’re going to make it to November, we need to remember that responsibility lies at both ends of our contract. We need to respect the rules put in place but also step up when we see something that’s not working. Members of our community should be transparent with each other, otherwise we run the risk of losing ourselves in the uncertainty and unknown.
We can do this. We can stay on campus this semester. But it’s going to take all of us.
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