EDITORIAL: Open or closed campus? There are no good choices.


Morgan Anderson

Editorial Cartoon

As universities across the country close their campuses mere weeks into the fall semester the question arises: will Wichita State University stick to its original plan or will it close campus indefinitely? The dilemma involves fiscal, public health and social considerations. There is no easy solution. 

The fiscal incentives for the university to remain open are plain. With a usable campus out-of state and international students are able to live on campus. This allows the university to charge housing costs from these students. Without the advertised benefits of student life out-of-state and international students are less likely to attend the university, ridding Wichita State of a student group which pays full tuition. An open campus is imperative to retaining lucrative out-of-state and international students. Just as crucial to the financial health of the university is the all important student fee. If campus were to close, all facilities would be unusable rendering student fees obsolete and unethical. The revenue from student fees is the underpinning of many development projects across the campus which the university relies on to increase enrollment. Closing campus comes with serious fiscal consequences for the university and cannot be taken lightly. 

The fact remains that keeping campus open poses health risk to students, staff and faculty. Even if social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitation standards were enforced uniformly across all on-campus class meetings, requiring some students, at faculty discretion, to travel to campus, use restrooms, walk on campus, eat on campus or use other facilities is dangerous. It is unequivocal that community lives are more important than the financial health of the university. The imminent decision should not be left entirely to administration, particularly when university constituents have no insight into the prevalence of COVID-19 on the Wichita State campus. Wichita State needs to release COVID-19 case numbers to the public immediately. This basic transparency, the practice of state and county governments, empowers university constituents to make informed decisions about their health, and allows the general public to evaluate any forthcoming policy changes regarding public health on campus. 

The financial and public health realities are not the only factors to consider when deliberating between keeping campus open or closing it. If campus is closed the student experience will be irrevocably impaired. Learning entirely via zoom while being deprived of social interactions and campus facilities fundamentally alters the nature and value of attending university. Students will not be the only ones impacted. The logistical hurdles of teaching a course load remotely are bound to weigh on faculty who have not already made the transition to online classes. It is conceivable that the general moral of students, staff and faculty could be negatively impacted if Wichita State’s campus were to close. 

No matter which course the university ultimately chooses, to keep campus open or to close it, both the institution and its constituents will suffer. There are no good choices. But there are better ones.