The ethics of in-person classes

Henry Gamber

What are you willing to risk for a higher quality education?

COVID-19’s unprecedented and lasting effects present an ethical dilemma to the university administration: move all classes online, sacrificing the quality of education while ensuring minimal transmission of the coronavirus, or keep in-person classes, leaving the quality of education high while ensuring that students will be at risk of a potentially fatal infection. 

Students are aware of this risk and are worried about getting, and possibly spreading, COVID-19 on campus. 

“I am afraid of getting COVID now that I’m here,” sophomore vocal performance major Josie Watkins said. “I am worried that if I get coronavirus, how will that impact my education?  And what if I spread it by being around more people?”

Philosophy Professor and renowned novelist Clancy Martin shed some light on the dilemma with a crash course on ethics and risk. 

“We have to remember when we’re thinking about these kinds of situations,” Martin said, “is that we are always balancing risk in everything that we do in life.”

Martin used driving a car as an example. Driving a car is an inherently risky behavior, with reporting that the odds of an individual dying due to an automobile crash are about one in 77.

What helps make an individual or institution’s behavior ethically right is that they are not forcing another individual to take an undue risk.

“We’re, ethically speaking, on the safest ground when we allow people to exercise their own liberty when it comes to the question of risk,” Martin said, “and that they are also not coerced by, or as minimally as possible, coerced by external factors.

Martin thinks that the university is doing a good job of not forcing both students and faculty into in-person classes, meaning that administration is acting ethically while trying to provide education.

However, for students in the performing arts and other hands-on programs, it can feel like less of a choice.

“Personally, since I’m a vocal performance major,” Watkins said, “it’s honestly impossible to have a worthwhile education while being entirely online.

Watkins also thinks that there aren’t enough resources to encourage “fruitful education” in an online environment.

“There are a lot of inconsistencies in how online professors conduct online learning,” Watkins said. “Hopefully in the future, there will be more resources and universally followed models in place that make online classwork more comprehensive for the average student.”

Students can minimize the risk of in-person guidelines by following CDC and university guidelines, which include: wearing a mask, washing and sanitizing your hands often social distancing.