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Opinion: The college reopening mess didn't have to happen

September 17, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - AUGUST 18: A student studies outside the closed Wilson Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on August 18, 2020 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The school halted in-person classes and reverted back to online courses after a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases over the past week. (Photo by Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images)

Many colleges made bad reopening decisions because they were stuck in a double bind of financial and political concerns, writes Columbia University political scientist Lincoln Mitchell.

Most American colleges and universities spent much of the spring and summer trying to determine a strategy for returning to school in the fall.

Colleges and universities needed to make sure students enrolled for the fall in order to get revenue from housing, food and related fees.

Many of America's largest and best universities are state schools.

Universities like these must maintain a constructive relationship with their state government, not least because they need financial support from those governments.

In practice, this means that universities in states where Republicans partially or fully control the state government need to make decisions about student and faculty health with at least some recognition of the reality that their state government is likely to align itself with the Trump administration's approach -- effectively that the importance of reopening in general outweighs the risk to public health.

Compare this to the California State University system system, which could move to online classes early because California's government is controlled by Democrats and as demonstrated by Gov. Gavin Newsom's relatively cautious guidance for reopening colleges.

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