After only two weeks of classes, 500 students at the 6,800-student Georgia College, a public liberal arts college in a rural Georgia town, have tested positive for COVID-19. While the pandemic is shutting down campuses everywhere, in Georgia college administrators are facing a particular difficulty: Georgia’s decision to centrally manage COVID policy for all of its 26 public universities.
In her new Forbes column, IHS President Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright critiques Georgia’s top-down management. “Top-down statewide management of universities’ COVID-19 response prevents individual campuses from adapting to the evolving challenges the novel coronavirus presents, based on their own circumstances and capacities,” Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes.
Elsewhere, universities are trying to innovate, evolve, and design COVID policies that are tailor-made for their campus needs. Dr. Chamlee-Wright points to a New York Times article about Syracuse University and other universities that are testing contact-tracing apps.
But in Georgia, the administrators of public colleges are prevented from breaking with state-wide plans. Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes:
This is not to suggest that the state has no role to play. Clarity on minimum standards is helpful. Provision of services, like testing, that universities may have difficulty providing is helpful. Removing tools in the university leader’s toolkit and stifling the solution-seeking ingenuity that defines university culture is not.
But that’s what’s happening in the Georgia university system, where statewide policy is overruling local discretion. Vasquez notes that even though 7% of Georgia College’s student body is now COVID-positive, its administration doesn’t appear to have the authority to move classes online and that the decision likely “would have to happen at the state level.-Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright
This academic year is going to be challenging for every college in the United States. Each day is bringing new COVID facts, new positive cases, and new ideas for how to keep communities safe. Limiting administrators’ choices in this dangerous, constantly evolving context is a recipe for disaster.
“Public university systems should be focused on offering the kind of support that allows boots-on-the-ground leadership to tap local capacity and respond nimbly,” Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes.