Why Resuming Campus Tours Is A Good Idea
Criticism of campus tours is overblown.
On Friday, Furman’s Admissions Office began offering in-person tours for prospective students for the first time since campus originally closed in March. Some student ambassadors are concerned about the potential impacts of this decision on public health, and other students have gone so far as to accuse the administration of greed or at least misplaced priorities. Both concerns are overblown. The decision to resume campus admissions tours does not significantly threaten the health of Furman students, nor does it reflect a hypocritical double standard on the part of the Admissions Office.
COVID-19 is a contagious disease. But if visitors and ambassadors alike are masked, asymptomatic, six feet apart, and outdoors, the chance a campus tour leads to transmission of the virus is infinitesimally small. Evidence on the effectiveness of masks is overwhelming, and a study from this summer found that the odds of transmission indoors was nearly 20 times greater compared to an open-air environment. A campus tour is safer than going to church or to the grocery store, or eating with friends in the DH. Given that every interpersonal activity involves at least some small degree of risk, tours seem like a pretty safe bet.
In light of the relative safety of campus tours, it is difficult to make the case that the university is employing a double standard that values potential future students over current ones. Those living on campus this semester have access to both campus and the community, and we can come and go as we please, while outsiders have no such privilege. Visiting family members cannot enter academic buildings or residence halls, and the occasional dog-walker who sneaks onto the lake path poses no real problem. Other than these, the only people who step foot on campus are students, faculty, and staff — and those coming here for a tour would be held to the same if not higher standards. And because Admissions is not siphoning resources from student organizations — almost all of which are funded through SGA, member dues, and/or academic departments — offering tours would not detract from the student experience.
It is also unfair to accuse the administration of selfishness or greed any time a decision is made that takes financial factors into account. This isn’t some gambit to line the deans’ pockets with tuition money. Universities need students, and in-person tours can be quite helpful in recruiting those students. That is especially true for Furman, since we happen to be really good at campus tours! As a high school senior, months before I decided to enroll here, I noted that the Admissions Office at Furman did the best job of any school I visited, including some that were more “prestigious” and famous. While there is always room for improvement, our strength in this area is something that we should all be proud of. As long as tours are conducted safely and voluntarily and guides and visitors alike are held to high standards, there is no compelling reason not to offer them.
Winston Churchill once quipped that criticism “fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to … an unhealthy state of things.” Because of this, good criticism requires not only a sense that something is wrong, but also an idea about what a healthy state of things would look like and how to get there. Most of the complaints against the new Admissions policy have lacked these latter components, relying instead on amorphous claims about campus health and the student experience. Such “criticism for criticism’s sake” — divorced from scientific reality and oblivious to the complex tradeoffs that COVID-19 forces on decision makers — gets us nowhere. The new policy may not be perfect, but it is sound, and it has my support.