Yesterday I was sitting at the TA table during a tutorial. Some of us were snacking from the great menu campus has to offer — one was eating some weird chemically smelling chips, another one speedran for cookies, and I forgot my snacks. Aside from questioning people’s nutrition choices, while we were happily being paid to help some thirty students, we were wondering where the remaining hundred were. Why is the ‘campus of winners’ (low key cringe) so empty?
The university has been wondering the same. The Executive Board tried to rope people back to campus in their latest update email, while the programme directors expressed their concerns about students missing in action. Concerns about people falling of the radar and ineffective education are abound. But one notable through-line is the ‘community’. The missing students do not ‘become part of the community’, while they should be (or rather ‘are’) part of an academic learning community.
However, here people start conflating an empty campus with students being lost, or losing academically. (If that were true then yes, technically it’s a campus of winners.) If you’re steeped in that community, you cannot imagine that people would want or could do without.
As an example, some call the ‘COVID generation’ of students ‘still high schooler students’, but that’s ignoring those for whom that was the case before. They are perfectly content going back home and playing football with their high school friends every weekend. On the other hand, there are also those who consider studying basically the equivalent of a job; they go to the office, err, campus during the day, but it is not something to be very loyal to. These people cannot imagine that you would want to steep yourself in such communities.
Talking about jobs, in the ‘adult world’, there seems to be a trend going on to allow people more flexibility, to a allow them to work from home. You’d confer with your boss about this; they know you’re physically absent but still working. At uni, there is no boss to confer with, because you’re your own. You can reasonably decide that today is not the day that a trip to campus is worth it, so you’ll work from home. If that’s every day, you’re willing to trade in some pedagogical effectiveness, and it works for you, then why not?
The explanation of why campus seems so empty is probably more complicated than the ‘it’s-the-recorded-lectures-stupid’. It’s probably partly COVID aftershocks, but the student body might also not be as homogeneous as the concerns about the empty campus would imply. Some saw what was possible, and might not want to go back, both literally and figuratively.
The metric of success is not how crowded the campus is — on that front, we already won, per board in the same email not one paragraph later. The rope the board is handling should be suggestive, not a lasso. Or, since I’m already steeped in mixing metaphors, a university should be a rich, tempting menu, with options some might consider questionable. A menu with something for everyone.
I think I’ll go for a bit of home, with a side of campus.