The Alternative to an Antiquated Response

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By Sam Anderson ’21

In the years since 1918, Goucher College and the world have experienced many changes. The two most notable of which for the small, liberal arts college in Maryland were moving from a campus in the heart of Baltimore City to a expansive, wooded campus in Baltimore County, and a shift in the late 1980’s from serving only female students to being a coeducational institution. Looking outwards from Goucher, the world has advanced technologically and medically to the point where a computer, which did not exist as we know them in 1918, fits in the palm of one’s hand and where a vaccine can be developed for a novel virus, not in a number of decades, but instead in less than two years. 

As this progress has been made in the last century, successful institutions have adapted in innovative ways to the many changes, or faced the consequences of not having done so. Our beloved college has time and time again adjusted, including in the two situations noted above, for the same reasons. Financial exigencies and other changing dynamics forced former Presidents of Goucher College, now regarded very favorably, to make numerous risky decisions. Specifically, Otto Kraushaar and Rhoda Dorsey left their mark on the college not by toeing the line, but by remaking the institution for the better, and leaving the college stronger than they found it. The trustees serving the institution in partnership with those Presidents supported those difficult decisions in defense of the institution which many of them had attended and to which all of them had sworn to be fiduciarily responsible.

During the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, the college responded by temporarily halting instruction on orders from the Health Commissioner of Baltimore and by expanding its infirmary from its location on one floor in a downtown building to occupying that entire building. According to Anna Huebeck Knipp, in her historical account of the college published in 1938, “In view of the extent and severity of the pandemic, it was considered fortunate that the number of deaths did not exceed two” (Knipp & Thomas). Two deaths may have been a “fortunate” outcome for a college in 1918, but nowadays the risk of even one death from a novel virus ought to be too heavy for a college to carry. The quarantine ward or expanded infirmary, a necessary evil of the 1918-1920 influenza pandemic, should be left in the past and not brought to Goucher’s campus this fall. 

So, what is the alternative? This is an opportunity for the college to advance toward its vision statement of becoming, 

{T]he model for accessible transformational education that integrates curricular and co-curricular learning to deliver graduates who can solve complex problems together with people who are not like themselves” (Vision).

The college should provide the same educational options to all of it’s students, especially those already facing barriers to their education because they are international students and/or students who are immunocompromised, and those facing other circumstances that would make the redesigned residential experience more challenging. 

The successful innovations of Kraushaar and Dorsey did not come from imposing limits on the college or its students. They came from expansion. Expansion in physical space by moving from Baltimore to Towson, or expansion in who could attend the college. A temporary pivot online is the most expansive solution to this complex problem. Within the statement of “Who We Are,” found within Goucher’s Community Principles, the importance of our contributions to, and enrichment by, our home communities is noted (Community Principles). Moving online temporarily would allow students to renew this commitment to the communities we live in outside of the Goucher community. There will be ample opportunities to provide service during the coming year in our home communities, whether that be through volunteering or helping family members in this difficult time. The Office of Community Based Learning (CBL) and faculty who teach courses with a CBL focus could encourage and support students in making a positive difference at home. Students have already started this work in the time they have been home since mid-March and have even been featured on national news media for doing so. 

Through careful communication, the college can amplify the work of students while making a compelling case to prospective students as to why choosing such an innovative college is the right decision for them. Differentiation of experience is crucial for small liberal arts colleges given the uncertainty that institutions of higher education face in the near future. We should not restrict ourselves by the physical limitations of returning to campus this fall. Instead, let’s recommit to our community principles, from a distance, and leave Goucher College stronger than it was before.

Sources:

“Community Principles.” Goucher College, www.goucher.edu/explore/who-we-are/community-principles.

Knipp, Anna H. and Thaddeus P. Thomas. The History of Goucher College. Baltimore, Goucher College, 1938, p. 243.

“Vision.” Goucher College, www.goucher.edu/explore/who-we-are/mission.



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