Navigating the pandemic when “every decision is an individual decision”
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One of the enduring and seemingly unanswerable questions of this summer is what to do about schools. K-12 schools, colleges and universities are all trying to balance health needs against the shortcomings of online education.
Derrick Lindstrom is in the thick of it. He’s the dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Cultures at Minneapolis College, and one of the 10 people we’ve been following in our series about the American labor force called “United States of Work.” The following is an edited transcript of his conversation with “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal.
Kai Ryssdal: So, we were checking our files — it has been since March that we had you on, which, frankly, seems like forever ago. First of all, how’s life in quarantine for you?
Derrick Lindstrom: It’s been eventful, actually. In May, [my wife’s] dad passed away. And so we had gone from quarantine to quarantine and hospice — you know, the whole cycle of health care during a pandemic.
Ryssdal: It wasn’t COVID-19, was it?
Lindstrom: It wasn’t COVID. In fact, I don’t want to say COVID was a blessing, but one of the positive things that came out of this was — you know, our goal was to keep him in the house as long as possible, and because we’re all home, we’re able to do that. So we were really fortunate to be able to spend that time with him.
Ryssdal: Yeah, small blessings, small blessings. OK, so otherwise, I mean, you do have a day job, which you and so many millions of the rest of us have been doing remotely. The catch, of course, is that you are in education, you’re running a school. How goes it?
Lindstrom: Yeah, so we are in the last week of our summer session and fall session starts in four weeks. And so it’s been a steep learning curve, but things are going pretty well. We converted 96% of our courses in the summer to fully online, and so I haven’t really spent any time on campus really, other than, you know, grabbing stuff from the office. But some of the things we did is investing in training for our faculty over the summer.
Ryssdal: Well, that’s good. What is your sense of what enrollment is going to be like for the fall? Do you know yet?
Lindstrom: We don’t. I’m cautiously optimistic. Typically, a third of our enrollment comes in the last four weeks to begin with. [Our enrollments] are down, and our peer institutions in the metro area are down equally as far, and so I think that there’s just overall hesitation of anyone to make any commitments until they know for sure what’s going to happen.
Ryssdal: This is a squishy of a question, but I’m going to throw it out there and we’ll see how it goes. How do you decide? And by decide, I mean, like everything. How do you decide what to do professionally with the students nominally in your care? How do you decide to do whatever you’re going to do with the people working for you? How do you decide with your kids? How do you calculate all that stuff?
Lindstrom: Oh, yeah, that’s a really squishy question. You know, I’m always trying to think about the safety of our students, faculty, staff. Kids are tricky. You know, we get mixed messages all the time about what’s safe, what’s not safe. Because we as a country can’t make a decision in what direction we want to move unilaterally, every decision is an individual decision that each family member needs to make.
Ryssdal: When we talked in March, you had started running in the mornings to sort of work out some of your frustrations and anxieties and stuff. You still running?
Lindstrom: Yeah, I met my 2020 goal, which was 1,200 miles on Saturday. So I’ve run 1,000 miles since I’ve been in quarantine. With no commute to work I have more time to put in some extra miles.
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