The Atlantic Daily: American Colleges Have No Good Options

Universities face a nightmare this fall. Plus: some advice for the class of 2020.

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This pandemic is a reminder that, despite all the American cultural lore around them, colleges are most fundamentally physical spaces, where people gather to learn and, sometimes, live. That makes them a challenge to operate amid a deadly outbreak.

Or as Paul LeBlanc, the president of Southern New Hampshire University, told Adam Harris back in April: “If you were to design a place to make sure that everyone gets the virus, it would look like a nursing home or a campus.”

My colleague Adam, whose education coverage is always must-read, has been reporting on the nightmare universities face this fall.

Here are three questions university presidents are thinking about in advance of the coming semester:

1. How will schools keep on-campus residences and facilities safe?

If campus officials bring students back and then have to send them home again in the event of an outbreak, will students be willing to pay for this on-again, off-again college experience? If not, how will colleges cover the cost for all the things they have to do to keep students safe?

2. How do you regularly test a 20,000-student campus?

Institutions are planning to test students and staff regularly—but the nation has been remarkably slow to increase its testing capacity.

3. What happens to NCAA sports?

If college campuses aren’t safe enough for most students to return in June but college-football players come back, should they receive hazard pay?

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Our advice for the class of 2020

This year’s college graduates are having a very different graduation season than they probably imagined. At The Atlantic, we’ve been trying to help the class of 2020 retain at least one ritual: the commencement speech.

Here are a few words of wisdom for the graduate in your life:

That whole career-track thing you’ve been worrying about? Fundamentally interrupted. Don’t see this as a void; see it as a permission slip.

— David Brooks, Atlantic contributing writer and New York Times columnist

You won’t get to have this very special event, four years in the making. Why not? Because history found you.

— Caitlin Flanagan, staff writer

Rather than thinking of what has been taken away, members of the class of 2020 should think of themselves as part of a generation that gave—a generation that sacrificed.

— Julian E. Zelizer, history and public-affairs professor at Princeton

The way you approach hardship will define you. At any point, you can cast yourself as the hero of your own story. You get to make that choice. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

— Bridget Phetasy, writer and comedian

When you get dumped or lose a job, or when your plans are all on hold because of a global disease, cry for a minute. Talk to a friend. And then let it motivate you to make changes—to close your bar tab, to work harder, to do something, anything, else.

— Katie Herzog, writer and journalist

Photographs by Sarah Illenberger

One question, answered: Where did the 5G-related coronavirus conspiracy theories come from?

The pandemic unfolding at the same time as the global rollout of 5G, the newest technology standard for wireless networks, is somewhat of a perfect storm.

Fears about a correlation between 5G and the coronavirus are baseless—but they’re also not the beginning of the story.

As part of Shadowland, our special project on conspiracy theories, the tech writer Kaitlyn Tiffany dove deep into the world of the wireless-skeptical, which includes environmental activists, fringe scientists, politicians, and celebrities.

What to read if … you just want practical advice:

Tonight’s Atlantic-approved quarantine activity: If you could use a little delight today: Our photo editor Alan Taylor offers an enchanting photo gallery of—drumroll, please—flamingos. Just flamingos. Happy Thursday.