Searching for ‘Bigfoot’ — an American College that Stayed ‘Old Normal’ throughout the Coronavirus Panic

by | May 5, 2021


Maybe I would have better luck looking for Bigfoot in the forest than for an “old normal’ college or university in America.

Attending a college or university has been very different for students in America over the last year-plus of coronavirus panic. There has been a huge increase in college students taking courses over the internet, missing out entirely on the experience of in-person classes and campus life. Yet, in some ways these students are the lucky ones. Students on college campuses have been subjected, in the name of countering coronavirus, to conditions one would find in a prison or a horrid psychological experiment.

There has been media attention on gyms, churches, and other places that have maintained the old normal way of doing things, often at the expense of being subjected to attack by local and state governments that demand closing operations or enlisting the venue operators as coronavirus crackdown enforcers. In other areas, especially it seems where election votes strongly skew Republican, many businesses and other public places continued operating normally or rather close to normally throughout most the panic.

However, I have not seen any media coverage of a single college or university in America that has continued to operate normally through the coronavirus panic. I have done some searching for this “Bigfoot” and have found no proof yet of its existence.

Maybe some colleges and universities in those areas where people have rather commonly resisted much of the panic have declined to follow most or all the crackdown measures that are present at many colleges and universities around the country. Maybe they managed to do so while keeping out of the headlines.

Maybe even a college or two have bucked the pressure in some of the states or cities that have had among the more draconian coronavirus crackdowns. If so, the existence of these outliers is not widely known.

If “old normal” universities have persisted through the panic, it is not easy for potential students to know of their existence. And the apparent absence of “old normal” university options is not due to lack of demand. For many students, an “old normal” approach would be near, if not at, the top of the list of desired college attributes.

A significant number of prospective and ongoing college students (or their parents) who have bought into extreme fear of coronavirus want to pursue classes only via the internet or in a very restrictive in-person environment. Other graduating high school students yearn to start college at, and continuing college students wish to transfer to, a college or university that offers them the freedom and interpersonal interactions that were common before the arrival of coronavirus crackdowns.

Even if many crackdown-crazy colleges and universities change their ways and return to the “old normal” or quite close to it, should a student trust that these institutions will not revert to crackdowns upon the emergence of the next mass panic du jour? If you want to have your college respect your freedom over several years of attendance, doesn’t it make sense to choose a college that has a track record of refusing to impose harsh restrictions in the name of countering coronavirus?

Yet, when I searched for colleges and universities that declined to impose an array of stifling restrictions in the name of countering coronavirus, I came up with no place that just said “no.” University after university that seemed like it would be a good prospect for bucking the trend touts on its website its coronavirus restrictions — mandates regarding mask wearing, “social distancing,” “quarantining” of healthy people, taking of coronavirus tests, et cetera. Some even promote that students take experimental coronavirus vaccines — something more and more universities are announcing students, as well as faculty and staff, will be required to take before being are allowed to step foot on campus in the upcoming fall semester.

Of the colleges and universities I have checked, Patrick Henry College in Virginia seemed from its printed coronavirus policy to be the closest to “old normal.” Its 26 pages “Fall 2020/Spring 2021 On-Campus Instruction & Covid-19 Risk Mitigation Plan” includes buzz words of coronavirus panic and restrictions, but also provides much wiggle room.

Patrick Henry College’s policy is not in line with the “give me liberty or give me death” proclamation for which the university’s namesake is so well remembered. But, the policy does appear in many ways to be an effort to grudgingly go along with the requirements imposed by government — in this case, the state of Virginia government that has been among the more stringent coronavirus crackdown state governments — and to go no further. It seems like the college desires to maintain as much liberty as it can on campus without suffering death — being shut down. The policy states on its title page “This plan has been reviewed by the State Council of Higher Education and has been found to be compliant in containing the required components of the ‘Higher Education Reopening Guidance’.”

Still, attending even Patrick Henry College with its policy in place does not appear to be the same as attending an “old normal” college — a choice many students would like to have. And, while the policy looks more freedom-friendly on paper than the policies of other colleges and universities I have reviewed, that is no guarantee of how the policy is implemented in fact and in particular circumstances. A potential student would be wise to talk about that with people who have spent time on campus.

Do you know of a college or university that kept things “old normal” on campus in the face of the coronavirus panic? If so, please share some information about it with the Ron Paul institute. Hopefully, “Bigfoot” is out there. I would like to pass along some leads for students.


  • Adam Dick

    Adam worked from 2003 through 2013 as a legislative aide for Rep. Ron Paul. Previously, he was a member of the Wisconsin State Board of Elections, a co-manager of Ed Thompson's 2002 Wisconsin governor campaign, and a lawyer in New York and Connecticut.

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