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What Colleges Are Doing to Help Their Communities Fight the Pandemic

A nurse emerges from a tent at a coronavirus testing center at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
A nurse emerges from a tent at a coronavirus testing center at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.

As the pandemic has closed campuses, forcing higher education to reinvent itself, many colleges are also meeting this unprecedented moment with a renewed sense of purpose about their role in the community.

Faculty and staff members, as well as students, are contributing and producing medical equipment, preparing buildings for use as health-care facilities, providing Wi-Fi to local residents, and offering services like public information, small-business support, legal aid, and spiritual counseling. From Bonnie Resinski, the costume designer and wardrobe manager for the Center for Fine Arts at Saint Francis University, in Pennsylvania, who realized she could turn yards of fabric left over from a 1998 production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest into medical masks, to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who are developing a design for a simple, inexpensive emergency ventilator, the sector is responding to what the Tufts University president, Anthony Monaco, has called “a Dunkirk moment for our country.”

It is an extraordinary time of daunting challenges, but also opportunities “to establish our higher-education institutions as pillars of the community,” says Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, president of Michigan’s Oakland University. Public trust in colleges and universities has been declining for years, fueled by rising tuition, concerns about the value of a degree, political and ideological debates, and doubts over whether the system still serves the common good. Making the case for higher education’s role in society means assuming public responsibility in a crisis.

To explore how colleges are contributing to the “war effort” to contain and fight the coronavirus — and mitigate its social and financial effects — The Chronicle collected examples from around the country. Too many people have mobilized on too many fronts for us to recognize them all. Rather, this project gives a sense of the prevailing and novel ways that administrators, faculty and staff members, and students are managing, with great determination and ingenuity, to help.

How is your institution contributing to the “war effort” against the coronavirus? Tell us here.