Extreme heat and California higher education

Bryan Alexander
5 min readSep 8, 2022

Several times academics have told me that climate change is “too futuristic” to discuss, in terms of how it impacts higher education. It no longer surprises me, but it is still interesting. I wish I could understand where that idea was coming from.

Because reality is pretty darned futuristic now. Last week I described climate change driven heat and water disasters around the world. Today’s case in point is California’s colleges and universities, baking in a brutal heat wave. Inside Higher Ed’s Sara Weissman has a very good article on this, which I’d like to draw on in this post.

The heat wave is threatening vulnerable people with injury. It is also testing the state’s electrical infrastructure, as people crank up air conditioning and fans.

How does it impact academia?

Weissman describes a series of different effects and responses on two levels: the physical and human campus, and also town-gown relations.

Shifting classes online is one option (which I’ve referred to as a Toggle Term in the COVID context) already in play: “Laney College in Oakland closed its campus Tuesday because of the heat, according to an email sent to students. Online courses were held, but in-person classes were canceled.” And this may have some downsides:

Mel Ehlers, a sophomore at Laney, didn’t have classes at the college Tuesday and was not affected by the closure, but she was worried it might inconvenience students who rely on campus services, such as the food pantry or on-campus showers.

“One concern I have for my classmates right now is that … many are using the campus for other basic resources,” she wrote in a[n unlinked] Twitter message.

For those institutions still offering in-person classes, relocating people across campus is an important move:

Jonathan Eldridge, assistant superintendent and vice president of student learning and success at the College of Marin, said the sustained heat has put a lot of pressure on the cooling systems in some buildings and made them less effective. As a result, some classes were moved to buildings where they wouldn’t normally meet.

Bryan Alexander

Futurist, speaker, writer, educator. Author of the FTTE report, UNIVERSITIES ON FIRE, and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.

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