San Diego State University is quiet and nearly deserted while classes are not in session.
San Diego State University is quiet and nearly deserted while classes are not in session. Photo by Chris Stone

As everyone now knows, the California State University has decided to stay online for the fall semester. The risks, as Chancellor Timothy White told the Board of Trustees, are just too great to return to traditional classes: “Our university, when open without restrictions and fully in person, as is the traditional norm of the past, is a place where over 500,000 people come together in close and vibrant proximity with each other on a daily basis,” he said. “That approach, sadly, just isn’t in the cards now.”

This decision is exactly the right one, even if the delivery wasn’t great. White told the trustees before he told the CSU’s faculty and staff. I found out I’ll be teaching online by reading the New York Times. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that Chancellor White made the right decision. The disease is causing alarming new symptoms in small children. There are only glimmers of effective treatments, and God knows when there will be coronavirus vaccine.

The Chancellor allowed for some limited exceptions “based on compelling educational and research needs,” and they will have to follow “rigorous” protocols.

Apparently, sports is one of the exceptions. Even though just about everyone at SDSU will be teaching online next semester, even though the California Collegiate Athletic Association, based on Chancellor White’s decision, cancelled all of its sports activities for next fall, John David Wicker, SDSU’s Athletic Director, said that he doesn’t care, that he will carry on regardless: “I don’t know that it necessarily impacts us at all.” The athletes will be back on campus starting July 7.

It’s hard to know what’s worse: the arrogance of assuming that the Chancellor’s decision doesn’t apply to you; the seeming indifference to the health of his charges; or the fact that he can ignore the Chancellor without a whimper from SDSU’s administration. Let me assure you: if I said, “I don’t know that the Chancellor’s directive impacts my graduate class. We will be meeting regardless on Tuesday at 4:30,” well, let’s just say I’d be hearing from my dean. And HR too.

But the football program operates, it seems, independently of the rest of the university. The rules don’t apply to them. Good luck telling that to the virus.

Nor is this the only football related news. Apparently, the City Council has refused to rush into signing the Mission Valley contract without giving the terms due consideration, causing President Adela de la Torre to make this astonishing statement at a Zoom press conference: “I can’t tell you why the PSA isn’t going before council next week, but I can tell you that the financial uncertainties that every agency in the state is now facing make the perils of not closing this deal much more real.”

Jack McGrory is even more irresponsible: “This is the time to make this deal now, before we get mired in the economic mess of cutting budgets and looking at all the projects that could potentially be cut.” Remember, this is the man responsible for the Chargers ticket guarantee debacle. The cost to the city: $36 million. Why would anyone with a shred of financial sense listen to him?

California faces a staggering $54.3 billion shortfall. The CSU has taken $337 million hit in revenue losses. There is every indication that the CSU will suffer massive cuts in the fall, and it is far from clear how many students will return, meaning tuition revenue will likely plummet as well.

And yet, President de la Torre and Jack McGrory think that now is a good time to go into $600 million into debt for a project that might not even include classrooms?

What is it about football that leads to such addled thinking? Thank God the City Council is acting responsibly. Someone has to be the adult in the room.

Peter C. Herman is a professor of English Literature at San Diego State University. He is an expert on Shakespeare and Milton, and is author of the new book Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11.