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A message to our students: If you are thinking about sitting out the fall semester, please reconsider

The clock is ticking and maybe you are too late? But still there may be some time to make a better informed decision.

Like most undergraduate and graduate students, and some of their parents who are footing the bill, you have weighed the pros and cons of going back to classes this fall. You are trying to answer a bunch of questions connected to the quality of instruction and campus life: Should I go back full time? Can I go back part-time instead? Do I have enough money to pay for classes? Am I putting myself at risk of contracting COVID-19 if I return to campus? Will I put the health of my family and friends in danger? Are on-line classes worth the money? Will classes, if in person, remain in person for the entire semester? How many of my classmates/teachers will die from the virus? Should I sit the semester out?

Now that COVID-19 is enveloping the United States with alarming speed, universities are preparing, some better than others, to put into place safeguards for either face-to-face instruction or methods to enhance on-line instruction, that can will enable education in various formats, while at the same time ensuring the health of students, faculty, administrators, and other essential staff.

Some students argue that they want a “real” university experience, the one they had last year, or the one their parents or friends attending other universities had. This “real” experience might include an active Greek life, students socializing in circles on grass lawns, attending classes in person, and having fun outside of classrooms. This scenario, is no longer is possible. So what can we do?

What I do know is that unless you are familiar with on-line instruction and learning, from now on university instruction will not be the same.

Perhaps you don’t function well online. This may be because you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t learn unless the instruction is face-to-face, you prefer face-to-face instruction more, or the result of a learning disability. Again, I understand and empathize with you. But things have changed.

The presence of COVID-19 is the new normal, for now and you should get used to it. Maybe your experience last semester was less than ideal. Your instructor was not great on-line. But he or she is hopefully going to get better. It takes time for both instructors and students to shift over from face-to-face to online teaching and learning.

Maybe you are thinking that you will go back to campus in the spring semester, because, after all, a vaccine will have been developed by then. In a perfect world this might happen, but in reality we do not know when the vaccine will be invented, when you’ll finally end up receiving it, and how much adoption among the wider community there will be. In other words, it’s going to be a long time before typical face-to-face university classes resume to normal if there ever was such a thing.

Here is another downside to taking a semester or two off. You will be half a semester, or one year behind. Thus your lifetime earning power will have decreased. And you are taking a gap semester or year off to do what? Play videogames from the comfort of your bed?

Alternatively, maybe because of job loss or economic insecurity, you will have a tough time paying for next year‘s bills, and consider post-secondary education a luxury item. But you are forgetting that education, especially a college or university education from an accredited (e.g., Middle States) educational institution is one of the best assets that you can purchase that’s worth getting into debt for.

The take away is that there are lots of situations that are not ideal. If you want to succeed in life it’s important that you learn this lesson now. Good employees, freelancers, and entrepreneurs need to be flexible to adapt to new situations including challenges and crises. If the only way you can learn is through face-to- face instruction you are missing out on lots of opportunities to learn and to grow. Your ability to tough it out during these uncertain times should also bode well when your application comes in front of employers as it demonstrates that even though conditions were not ideal, you toughed it out. Employers like this sort of thing.

Porlandia Redux: How using uninvited federal LEOs to police public protest will backfire

Portlandia, a satirical television series, makes fun of Portland’s often eccentric hipster community. It is fiction. But the deployment of heavily armed federal law enforcement officers (LEOs), coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, many without organizational identification and dressed in military fatigues, is not.

Though allegedly dispatched to protect federal property such as monuments and court houses, these officers have confronted and intimidated protesters and over the past few weeks regularly used tear gas, stun grenades, and other less-than-lethal munitions to control and disperse peaceful crowds. This is in sure violation of the right to assembly and to free speech. More troubling, have been instances where these LEOs have grabbed protestors off the streets (away from Federal areas), often targeting journalists, and bundled them into unmarked vans.

Rightly so, protesters, local and state politicians, and members of the news media have expressed deep concern about these tactics and many criminal justice professionals (from practitioners to scholars) have rapidly changed their opinion from “hey this is unusual, to this is plain wrong.” The deployment of federal LEOs without the express permission of the mayor or the governor raises all sorts of moral, legal and civil rights concerns.

Indeed the mayor of Portland and the governor of Oregon have publicly expressed their outrage with the federal government deploying these LEOs to police the protests. More specifically, “The attorney general of Oregon has filed suit against various federal agencies and officers involved and officers involved in one arrest” And some nongovernmental organizations such as the American Civil liberties Union have sued the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service because they perceive that these action violate that constitutional rights of protesters.

Despite how immoral and legally questionable these tactics are, there are other serious concerns, which have received less attention.

To begin with from an operational standpoint, although the federal LEOs appear to be working in close proximity to the Portland PD, it does not seem like they coordinating their activities with them and this is leading to increased confrontations with protesters, and with the possibility of more violence, injuries, for both protesters and the police.

Also extremely problematic is the fact that there is no guarantee that the individuals in military fatigues are bonafide LEOs. Without discernible identification, how do you distinguish between a federal LEO and an alt/far-right paramilitary group, like so called Boogaloo Boys or the Proud Boys. There’s already credible evidence that agent provocateurs (with various political affiliations and motivations) are initiating violence at and engaging in property damage and physical violence at otherwise peaceful protests throughout the United States. Allowing heavily armed and unidentified people dressed in military attire to sweep up protesters also means that local public safety is failing to protect the safety of their citizens. This is a sure sign of authoritarianism, where people disappear and are kidnapped by unidentifiable agents.

Most importantly, although some federal LEOs may actively welcome the opportunity to participate in this type of assignment, it will ultimately backfire. The opportunity to the kick asses of protesters may temporarily get them out of their current work assignment and break up the monotony of their job. Perhaps they like the change of scenery or participating in riot control duties without being properly trained; it provides them with a little bit of “excitement.” One has to wonder, however, if this type of work detail was in the minds of the men (and by all accounts they appear to be men) who joined these organizations. By all accounts, what they are being asked to do is not real policing. It’s not really crime fighting and it’s not improving public safety where it is most needed. In most cases, riot control is not what they were primarily trained to do, nor is this their calling. History won’t forget these men and their actions. When and if there is a congressional inquiry, like there was with Waco, it’s going to be an embarrassing moment when these officers and their superiors are asked to testify. Moreover a decade or so from now when they look back at their careers in law enforcement, what are they going to say or feel when asked why they participated in this kind of operation? Will they feel shame?

Federal LEOs presence sparks increased confrontations and possible violence between protestors and local law enforcement. Quite simply, if neither the mayor nor the governor has invited them, the Federal LEOs don’t have jurisdiction (meaning legal authority) and local law enforcement should immediately arrest them and local prosecutors should charge them with impersonating a police officer, performing illegal arrests, detention, and kidnapping.

The time to act to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our nations’ correctional facilities is now

The United States now has the highest number of people who have contracted COVID-19, and the greatest number who have died as a result of it. But the distribution of people who have been affected is not even. Some people and settings are more vulnerable than others. Since the United States has the highest incarceration rates, it is not surprising that COVID-19 has hit jails and prisons and the people who both live and work there hard.

Correctional facilities are breeding grounds for sickness and the transmission of viruses. Why? They are notoriously dirty places, their HVAC systems are typically obsolete and poorly maintained so bacteria and germs thrive, and health care behind bars is rationed and of poor quality. More importantly, it is difficult for those who are incarcerated to socially distance from fellow prisoners who may be afflicted by many numerous communicable diseases, including COVID-19. Inmates are not the only people infected. Correctional workers, from officers to administrators, who interact with prisoners on a daily basis are also exposed to the same risks. In short, jails, prisons and other correctional facilities make you sick and are nasty places to be sick.

Indeed there have been calls by prisoners, their loved ones, activists and allied organizations to release as many people as possible from correctional facilities. Among those who have been released, it is not entirely clear what “being released” means. In some jurisdictions judges and prison administrators are proposing that inmates should be released until the COVID -19 scare is over or we have significantly “flattened the curve.” But correctional institutions and governments, at all levels, have been slow to respond to these calls. Jurisdictions are reluctant to release prisoners into the community because they fear that these individuals might reoffend, infect other people in the community, or become infected themselves.

This view finds support from members of the public who believe that all prisoners are dangerous and rabidly hyper violent. In fact, a large proportion of people incarcerated in correctional facilities are nonviolent, and those who have served many years behind bars have lower probabilities of reoffending than the general population. Thus releasing a substantial portion of prison and jail populations, who shouldn’t be incarcerated or for so long, would not represent a significant risk to the public and will end up saving lives .

Every day, my twitter feed, includes numerous news reports about the number of inmates who have been infected or died, or correctional facilities that have experienced enormous outbreaks of COVID-19. Also, we now have two relevant data bases (@CovidPrisonData & @Covid19Prisons). One tracks the number of people who are infected in prison and the other amalgamates policies and practices that countries throughout the world are considering or are already using to deal minimize or prevent prisoners from being exposed to the coronavirus. This data is publicly available. Thus neither lack of data nor access to it can be used an excuse to act to alleviate the spread of COVID-19 in jails and prisons. As it is painfully clear the debacle is primarily due to incompetence, inertia, or poor decision-making at the secretary of corrections levels in most states where the Department of Corrections have failed to act. This situation is more dire because as I write this, large numbers of inmates and correctional officers are being infected and some are dying.

Over the last four months, we have seen some unspeakable tragedies that shock the conscience of most caring people in the free world. In a country that prides itself on upholding and protecting human and civil rights, the failure to demonstrate responsible leadership toward people behind bars confronting COVID-19 at the federal, state, and local levels is not only inhumane, but also shocking in its blatant disregard for human life. If we’re appalled and shocked by this and do not recognize our country, then voting in November is one way make this right.