The Personal Blog of Stephen Sekula

The Equation

Colleges and universities across the United States are planning to re-open in the fall with large numbers of students on-campus. Some places have done this sensibly, by limiting that number to just first-year students, or just seniors, and only for one term or another. Others have proceeded with full populations on campus, in the same housing conditions they would normally been in. In addition, some universities have opted out of preventative measures to identify COVID-19 cases before they turn into clusters; they are foregoing testing of students before they come to the campus, and they are not testing the students regularly after they arrive.

To those universities and colleges, I will simply say this. Congratulations on your choices, which have been motivated by a convolution of money, the pleas of parents and students, and the claim that “we have to preserve the college experience for students” (footnote: I thought the main part of the college experience was education? No? Oh, ok.) Now that you have made this decision, and before you go any further, please solve the following threshold equation for a, b, c, and x:

    \[ a \cdot D_{faculty} + b \cdot D_{staff} + c \cdot D_{students} \ge x \]

Here, all symbols stand for real, positive integers. The threshold (x) is the answer the following question, “At what total of the deaths of faculty (D_{faculty}), deaths of staff (D_{staff}), and deaths of students (D_{students}) will this institution start making decisions intended to preserve human health and life and education during this pandemic?”

Let me know when you have solved for a, b, c, and x. We’re all eager to know the answer.