The Masked Professor vs. the Unmasked Student 戴口罩師 VS. 脫罩生
戴口罩師 VS. 脫罩生
Matthew Boedy, an associate professor of rhetoric and composition, sent out a raw emotional appeal to his students at the University of North Georgia just before classes began: The COVID-19 delta variant was rampaging through the state, filling up hospital beds. He would teach class in the equivalent of full body armor — vaccinated and masked.
North Georgia is not requiring its students to be vaccinated or masked this fall. And as in-person classes return at almost every university in the country, after almost 1 1/2 years of emergency pivoting to online learning, many professors are finding teaching a nerve-racking experience.
The American College Health Association recommends vaccination requirements for all on-campus higher education students for the fall semester. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings, regardless of vaccine status, for indoor public spaces in areas where the rate of infection is high.
But this is not how it has worked out on more than a few campuses.
More than 1,000 colleges and universities have adopted vaccination requirements for at least some students and staff. In an indication of how political vaccination has become, the schools tend to be clustered in states that voted for President Joe Biden in the last election.
But at some campuses, particularly in Republican-led states with high rates of contagion — like the state systems in Georgia, Texas and Florida — vaccination is optional and mask wearing, while recommended, cannot be enforced.
A smattering of faculty members have resigned in protest over optional mask policies. Most, like Boedy, are soldiering on. But the level of fear is so high that even at universities that do require vaccination and masks, like Cornell University and the University of Michigan, professors have signed petitions asking for the choice to return to online teaching.
"Morale is at an all-time low," warns a petition at the University of Iowa.
Universities are caught between the demands of their faculty for greater safety precautions, and the fear of losing students, and the revenue they bring, if schools return to another year of online education.
Who wins and who loses when companies can hire from anywhere?
Some employees and freelancers who can work remotely will have vastly expanded opportunities and the possibility of significant increases in pay, but remote workers in general figure to face more competition and have a higher dependence on luck.
One thing that seems unavoidable, research suggests, is an intensification of inequality.
In his 1981 paper, "The Economics of Superstars," Sherwin Rosen described the impact of recording and broadcasting on the incomes of athletes and entertainers. As technology enabled individuals with specialized skills to reach a giant market — one hour of work in a single location could suddenly reach many people across the country — fewer stars captured more of the rewards.
Rosen expected that over time many other professions would follow a similar pattern. A teacher's income, for example, was traditionally limited by the number of students who could fit into one classroom. But today on Udemy, an online learning platform, teachers like Chris Haroun have earned millions from courses they created, especially after COVID-19 lockdown pushed enrollments on the platform up by 425%. The vast majority of teachers on Udemy don't come close to Haroun's earnings, however, resulting in an extremely unequal distribution of income between superstar teachers and everybody else.
A meaningful shift in the distribution of income can also be seen in platforms where remote instruction is more similar to traditional teaching. On Outschool, an online marketplace for virtual classes for children, hundreds of teachers earn more than $100,000 a year, and dozens earn over $230,000. But most Outschool teachers earn far less, partly because they treat online teaching as a hobby or side hustle, and partly because they haven't yet figured out how to attract students.
The adoption of remote work is also affecting more traditional institutions. Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, told me in April, "Because all my classes are remote now, the school asked me, 'Can you go from 160 — dictated by the size of Stern's largest classroom — to 280?' That's 120 fewer seats for the other marketing professors to fight over."