Anticipating a pandemic

…black swan possibilities also lurk. Historical examples abound, such as a leader’s sudden death by accident or assassination that unravels a political order. A new religious sect or the vigorous reformation of an existing faith can win adherents and upend societies. Beyond political and social causes, a pandemic that exceeds our medical containment capacity could not only constitute a humanitarian disaster but also sap regimes, shock economies, and electrify cultures. (emphases added)

…imagine a future academy after a major pandemic has struck the world, perhaps along the lines of the early twentieth century’s Great Influenza. To envision the institution under such pressure, we would have to think through multiple disciplines and domains. We would have to consider, first, how such a thing would occur. This could involve delving into the history of disease, a look into graph theory for models of contagion, and a reflection on contemporary public health. We would then apply that learning to colleges and universities, a process that can ramify extensively depending on our awareness of the sector. Would distance learning grow rapidly as people fear face-to-face learning because of perceived contagion risk? Similarly, how would we take conferences and other forms of professional development online? Depending on the disease’s death toll, should we plan on depressed demographics within a generation, or would the birth rate bounce back? Would athletes refrain from practice and play from fear of contagion, or would both institutions and the general public demand more college sports as an inspirational sign of bodily vigor in the context of sickness and death? Which academic disciplines would be most likely to grow in the disease’s wake?

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