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Planning for the Fall Is Like ‘Driving Through a Dense Fog’

Updated: May 4

How the presidents of two small liberal-arts colleges are navigating the coronavirus crisis


By : Len Gutkin and Maximillian Alvarez | April 29, 2020



In the last two months, the coronavirus crisis has forced colleges to shutter their classrooms and dormitories and move instruction online. What will happen next semester? The Chronicle Review talked (via Zoom, of course) with G. Gabrielle Starr and Leon Botstein, the presidents, respectively, of Pomona College and Bard College, to get a sense of how the leaders at smaller, undergraduate-focused liberal-arts schools are handling this critical period.


Starr and Botstein discussed when and how to reopen, the advantages and risks of education technology, the importance of the arts and public culture, disaster preparedness, and the virtues of horror movies.

Len Gutkin: The president of Brown University, Christina Paxson, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times arguing that Brown and colleges like it need to be able to reopen in the fall. Is Bard going to open? Is Pomona? If so, what kind of opening will it be?

Leon Botstein: Yes. I think that we are going to open, and we’re going to open on schedule. The question of what kind of opening it will be is really dependent on federal, local, and state regulations. That’s hard to tell from here.

Places like Pomona and ourselves are in a terrifically privileged position because they’re small. We’re not giant tankers trying to move around. We have an obligation to be in the leadership of restoring public culture, and education is part of that public culture. It’s vital to a democracy. We don’t have a choice. We’re not a luxury enterprise.


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