Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Too risky for college to open

Bringing 2,000 new and returning college students to Middlebury in September is a risk we cannot afford.
Since the pandemic began, we have all hoped that the next season or the next big holiday would bring a return to longed-for “normal.” But each rushed or forced opening of business, travel or social life has set us back and taken a terrible toll in lives across the country and beyond. Infections and deaths have increased greatly just since the college announced it would reopen.
Thanks to a wonderfully fortunate combination of circumstances, including relative geographic isolation and responsible behavior, Vermont has so far escaped the worst ravages of the coronavirus. Sometimes the horror stories we read, hear and see in the news almost seem to be happening in another world. We have been lucky, but also careful, and we are certainly not immune.
Stated expectations of arriving students: that they will have “self-quarantined” in advance; that they will come here directly with as few interactions as possible en route; that they will stay in their assigned spaces once on campus and follow all prescribed health precautions, including wearing masks, respecting social-distancing space and constantly washing their hands; that they will not go into town or farther afield without permission or bring in unauthorized visitors; that they will forgo large demonstrations, meetings, parties, weekend trips and all that gives college life outside the classroom its unique quality, and that the college will be able to monitor, control and coordinate all these factors, represent dangerous wishful thinking. However trustworthy and mature we like to consider our students (and however welcome their financial input and generous volunteer efforts are to local businesses and organizations) injecting them into a small town in a rural community is an invitation to disaster for town and gown for miles around.
We understand that the financial implications of another “all remote” semester are huge for the college and its employees, most especially staff. Whether or not students are present, the college is morally obligated to keep everyone on its payroll at full salary and benefits. The college will protest that this is an unreasonable demand, but in fact it is far more reasonable than thinking it can safely bring the students back in a few weeks. It is entirely a question of priorities — lives vs. money. Lost dollars can eventually be recovered or compensated for; lost lives cannot. Some risks are worth taking; others are not. We wish the entire community would urge the administration to change course while there is still time.
Judy and Michael Olinick
Middlebury

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