Category Archives: health care

Should we consider the 25th Amendment?

I’m not advocating that the president of the United States resign. I anticipate the quality of care he’ll receive will allow him to recover from coronavirus, which has killed close to 210,000 Americans. But would it be better for him if he temporatrily handed off his duties to Vice President Mike Pence until he’s returned to full health?

Doing so would allow Trump to focus solely on getting well, which any person who has contracted this cruel virus would want to do. Pence has served as vice president loyally; he certainly knows the president’s political agenda, so we know Trump’s political preferences would advance without disruption. Perhaps the most important short-term item is keeping on track Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court.  

Presuming Trump’s quarantine lasts two weeks, Pence would assume the presidency for approximately 14 days. We know comparing coronavirus to the flu is foolhardy, but it’s not impractical to suggest that the worst of the president’s symptoms would be evident over the next seven days; if that happens, Pence might need to replace Trump for no more than one week.

The reality is as however powerful and relevant the president of the United States is, that individual remains in that position for no more than eight years. The president’s family deserves to have lots of time with him once he leaves office. Trump needs to consider that. A laser-like focus on himself, especially when his stamina is low, is essential right now. 

Purdue University president Daniels: We can reopen safely (I’m skeptical of the tone of the message)

Let’s take a closer look at Mitch Daniels’ editorial in today’s Washington Post.

The Purdue University president questions his critics (you can count me among them) who looked askance at his open letter to the university campus, dated April 21. His message then is almost identical now: Purdue University has an obligation to its students to reopen this fall; and it can do so without imperiling the health of the entire campus community.

Today’s message again appears to be one where what he WRITES overpowers what he MEANS. President Daniels’ heart is in the right place (I remind you, this is a man who has drawn widespread accolades for his steadfast refusal to raise tuition), but his tone appears almost cavalier and dismissive of other opinions.

One of Daniels’ arguments about reopening is that Purdue is not alone in considering it. In fact, multiple college and university leaders have said they PLAN to reopen in the fall, if health conditions allow. But notice Daniels ignores that one word as he explains what will happen on his campus:

Two-thirds of the more than 700 colleges surveyed by the Chronicle of Higher Education have now come to the same conclusion and will reopen with in-person instruction in the fall.

They will reopen IF health conditions allow. Do I think Daniels would open his campus if medical advice said otherwise? Of course not. But there’s nothing wrong admitting this: “I want to reopen Purdue, and I believe we can do it safely. But if the medical community tells us it’s not the right thing to do, then we won’t do it.”

Daniels asserts today that much has been learned about coronavirus since “then,” which references the various decisions made in March, including sending students home (March 10) and canceling the university’s commencement (March 17). However, Daniels was advocating for Purdue to open its doors in the fall in that aforementioned April letter. To infer, as today’s editorial does, that he’s now confident Purdue can resume face-to-face instruction is not wholly accurate.

Daniels is correct that all medical evidence to date shows young people are unlikely to become seriously ill if they contract coronavirus. But he says nothing about another part of the evidence: They can transfer the virus to older people and those individuals with underlying health conditions.

Forty-five thousand young people — the biggest student population we’ve ever had — are telling us they want to be here this fall. To tell them, “Sorry, we are too incompetent or too fearful to figure out how to protect your elders, so you have to disrupt your education,” would be a gross disservice to them and a default of our responsibility.

Moreover, he justifies meeting his responsibility to students because more “than 80 percent of the total campus population is 35 and under.” Let’s presume that faculty, staff and students at Purdue total 60,000 people; using Daniels’ calculations, roughly 12,000 are over 35 (and therefore more likely to suffer the worst effects of coronavirus). For some perspective, Mackey Arena, the home of many Boilermakers’ teams, seats almost 15,000.

These 12,000 people taught yesterday’s students; are teaching today’s students; and will teach tomorrow’s students. These 12,000 people keep the campus clean and safe. Not publicly acknowledging them (and any fears they have about being on campus in the fall) is a “gross disservice” to their daily efforts to make Purdue the great educational institution that it is.

If that “80 percent” statement didn’t get your attention, then this one might:

We recognize that not every school can or should view the decision to reopen as we do. Unlike Purdue, many colleges were already struggling with low enrollment and precarious finances when the pandemic hit. But given what we have learned, with 45,000 students waiting and the financial wherewithal to do what’s necessary, failure to take on the job of reopening would be not only anti-scientific but also an unacceptable breach of duty.

Behind all the bluster, Daniels admits that Purdue cannot operate normally this fall. He makes clear — as many other college and university presidents have — that any planned face-to-face instruction must occur with some precautions in place. Daniels identifies all of them:

  1. Reduced occupancy classrooms
  2. Adjustments to living arrangements in the dorms
  3. Large-enrollment classes being offered online
  4. Widespread testing and tracing to identify coronavirus symptoms
  5. Protecting faculty, staff or students with underlying health conditions
  6. Eliminating many extracurricular events (notice Daniels says nothing about sports)
  7. A consistent message about the importance of hand washing and personal hygiene

Put it all together, and I want Mitch Daniels to be right. I want to wake up on a late August morning and know that every U.S. college or university leader who had hoped to have his or her campus open that day will be smiling brightly. I want an as-normal-as-possible educational experience for every college student. I certainly hope there’s no second wave of this awful virus.

However, caution, not brashness, has to guide what every college and university president or chancellor does in the coming weeks. President Daniels argument that Purdue University is unique in its composition and therefore will be open this fall is challenging to accept.

The toll from a pandemic

Perhaps the word is sad.

Or down.

Or angry.

Or afraid.

Or anxious.

Or lonely.

Or despondent.

Or resigned.

Or frustrated.

Whatever word best describes how you feel today as we plow through another day of the coronavirus pandemic is the right one. It doesn’t have to match what your best friend, your parent, your neighbor or your fellow teachers are feeling. It might not be the word that described how you felt yesterday, and it might not be the word that describes how you’ll feel tomorrow.

It’s how you feel today. You neither have to apologize for it nor deny it.

Ditto for our students.

And much like I should be careful before I privately judge how you feel, I need to be careful about privately judging how they say they feel. (And I’d be lying to you if I said I was always successful in exercising this caution.) But the gap between privately judging and publicly questioning is cavernous.

When I review my course syllabus with students at the beginning of the term, I always note the Services for Students with Disabilities offered by my university and discuss how that office can help them. I remind everyone that today that office might seem unnecessary to them. Then I say something like “but if you slip on ice and break your right wrist, and you are a right-handed person…suddenly that office is your best friend.”

My point: we can see a physical injury and we often are quick to want to lend a hand to a person in need, but a mental health issue or a learning disability we often can’t see. But we mustn’t pretend those conditions don’t exist, and we must encourage students who need such services to get them. Our institutions’ counseling centers are our allies here, and that’s another office I discuss during the syllabus review.

I was reminded of all of that today when I came across a social media post from an educator. The exact words she used in her post (which appears to have been taken down at some point) aren’t important; neither is the firestorm she created by what she wrote. Summarized briefly, and therefore incompletely, the woman questioned the legitimacy of the many extension requests she’s receiving from students this semester. She asked whether they were using superfluous or non-existent excuses to cover for not doing the work in her class(es) and to justify requested extensions to submit their assignments.

Of course, most of the comments I read (and I didn’t read all of them) in response to her post were harsh; the author made no friends and perhaps lost a few. (Full disclosure: I sent a private social media message to the woman asking if I could add her remarks to my blog; I didn’t receive a reply before her post apparently was taken down. In the interim, I adjusted what I had planned to write about.)

We educators lost one of the most powerful tools in our teaching arsenal when our quarter or semester was disrupted by the coronavirus epidemic. Forced to teach via remote delivery for the remainder of this academic year, we could no longer observe our students. Yes, I know we can see them through video chats, but we can’t observe them as we do when they’re seated in front of us. I’m not arguing semantics here: Please agree with me that we pick up so many cues about our students from their body language, facial expressions, moods and more when they’re in front of us. And when we know those students well, we pull them aside and ask what’s going on. (The “physical” I mentioned earlier applies, though in a different context, here; when they don’t look “right,” we know.) We can’t do that now, so we don’t know the depth of their anxiety, depression or whichever word accurately describes how each of them feels today. As a result, who knows how capable they are of completing the seemingly most mundane assignments we ask of them.

I recently got into an email exchange with a student in one of my classes. As our conversation ended, he thanked me for being the only instructor who had reached out to help get him to the finish line this semester. He offered no explanation for what he’d been feeling (and, of course, I didn’t ask him to); but if he had, I’d have been in a position to determine whether I thought it was legitimate or something else.

Remember that the right thing to do is ask a department head or dean if there’s a lack of clarity about granting extensions. Remember that there’s a (likely understaffed) counseling center where confidential referrals can be made. And remember that publicly questioning motives especially in times of crisis is impossible to defend.