'No Rule That Fits All' As Colleges Ponder What To Do This Fall

May 22, 2020

Colleges and universities across western Massachusetts are considering how to hold classes this fall, and whether in-person learning is a feasible idea amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some colleges, such as Springfield College, Western New England University and others, are planning to bring back students in September. Others, such as community colleges in Greenfield and Holyoke, will start the semester with remote learning in place. UMass Amherst will make a call, one way or the other, by the end of June. 

"There's no one rule that fits all; there's no pattern that they can follow," said panelist Ron Chimelis. "And I think each of them are going to have to, as the summer goes on, constantly adjust what they think they can do."

Panelist Kristin Palpini said this presents "quite a balancing act" for colleges and universities, especially those that lack huge endowments and can help absorb financial losses.

"I don't know how you have kids come back to campus to live — 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds — if the pandemic is still going strongly," Palpini said. "I can't see it working."

This week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker unveiled his full plan to reopen the state's economy. Some business sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, were allowed to open this week, with some others allowed to start up on Monday. During a press conference this week, Baker was asked how long the interval would be between each of the four phases his administration laid out.

"At least three weeks, okay, between phases, but it could be more," Baker said. "The move to a next phase is going to be a function of a review of how we're doing with the phase that we are in, and that's going to be all about public health data."

Baker's plan did garner some support, but he also faced plenty of criticism. Some feel Baker is moving too fast to reopen Massachusetts, while others were hoping for a more aggressive plan.

Also, this week, a recent study indicated that it's too soon to tell if Boston sports fans will be ready to return to places like Fenway Park or the TD Garden for sporting events. Professional sports has been at a halt since the beginning of the pandemic. If games do take place in the near future, it's likely they'll be played before empty stadiums and arenas.

Chimelis said he's less concerned about the finances of top-level teams — who have TV contracts — than he is about those in the minor leagues.

"Minor league teams need fans. That's how they survive," Chimelis said. "And this is going to have a devastating effect, whether they are able to open in the middle of the summer or not."

Palipini said she would likely "be in the later crowd" to attend any events.

"I'm really eager to get back out there, like a lot of people," she said. "But we've been in lockdown for two months, and we didn't do this for nothing. So I want to be very careful going back out there."

And then, there were four — Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate, that is. Two special elections went the way of Democrats this week, including one in the Second Hampden-Hampshire district, where Democrat John Velis defeated Republican John Cain for an open seat. 

Guests:

  • Ron Chimelis, reporter/columnist, Springfield Republican 
  • Kristin Palpini, veteran western Mass. journalist

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