Lockdown Chronicles: Why I'm Going To Connecticut College

Since I published my article Friday about the ongoing, Australia-style “lockdown” experiment being run in a small patch of southeastern Connecticut, messages keep piling up in my inboxes from the exasperated college students who have found themselves the experiment’s unwilling subjects. Uniformly, they are very thankful for the coverage, which is certainly not being provided by their tediously predictable in-house campus newspaper. Last I checked, even as the entire student body was being shoehorned by Administrative edict into mass quarantine, the lead story in that newspaper was a tidy little PR writeup of the College’s noble search for a new “Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion.” Talk about “burying the lede”…!

Whatever your pre-existing views regarding the merits of an ungodly expensive private liberal arts education, it’s still easy to sympathize with students who, through no real fault of their own, have been foisted into the comically dystopian position of paying approximately $80K per year to be confined to their dorm rooms, barred from visiting friends, and forced to endure yet another dreary round of ad hoc Zoom lectures.

Come to think of it: the Australia comparison is overly generous to the current state of affairs at Connecticut College. At least the ostensible logic behind Australia’s outlandishly draconian lockdown measures is that they’re necessary as the country awaits large-scale vaccine provision, which has lagged behind much of the world. And so the Government will enforce these harried police state conditions only for as long as it takes to get more vaccines in distribution. (Supposedly.) But at Connecticut College — it bears repeating — all students and staff were required, with extremely few exceptions, to get vaccinated before coming to campus for this academic year. Even the all-powerful Dean, in between emailing nitpick pronouncements about which social activities are acceptable, has stated that 99% of the student body is vaccinated. And at 66.9%, Connecticut has the second-highest statewide vaccination rate in the US, behind only Vermont. So what exactly is the endgame here? 

Well, that’s a question which seems to have occurred to a growing number of Connecticut College students. Here are some screenshots forwarded to me from the anonymous “YikYak” app, which show students not-so-politely discussing the decrees issued by their beloved, benevolent Dean:

It’s a comprehensively absurd situation. But the thing of broader societal consequence at stake here isn’t so much that students at Connecticut College are being deprived of socializing opportunities and having their private lives meddled in by overbearing, paranoid administrators — although that’s grimly fascinating unto itself. Especially given the pervasive culture of snitching and anxiety that I’ve been informed discourages aggrieved students from registering their objections publicly, because they worry about the repercussions of rustling too many feathers.

The thing of broader societal consequence is that Connecticut College now serves as a miniature test case for what happens when a framework of “permanent crisis” is allowed to persist, long past the point of there being any meaningful “crisis” at hand. 

Many commemorations of the 9/11 anniversary this year rightly noted the extreme overreaction the attacks engendered: especially the string of failed military interventions and the erection of a massive surveillance state. All of this was eagerly egged on by a suite of enterprising financial interests which profited handsomely from the frenzied climate of that time. The resulting erosion of civil liberties never hurt their bottom lines; after all, they’re the ones producing technologies to erode them with maximum efficiency.

An examination of the post-9/11 economic bonanza by the Wall Street Journal cited one corporation, CACI International Inc., which went from raking in $230 million in federal contracts in 2000 to $3 billion in 2021, thanks to all the “information technology, engineering, cyber and surveillance capabilities” they were called upon to provide to the Defense Department and “intelligence community.” The company marked this year’s solemn 20-year anniversary of 9/11 by opening up a brand-spanking-new 135,000-square-foot office in Reston, VA, where they’ll be conveniently surrounded by all the other shiny corporate HQs underwritten by an avalanche of “Global War on Terror” subsidies.

Do we really suppose that the vested interests which have likewise found such a lucrative market opening with COVID — notably the “endless testing” industry, including the elaborate “surveillance testing” regime that Connecticut College students must submit to — are just going to wind down their operations voluntarily? “Time to call it a day, folks?” Or is the bureaucratic/financial momentum of these initiatives going to assure that they effectively become permanent fixtures of daily life? (I’ve been doing some reporting on the “testing industrial complex,” which is undergoing a post-9/11 style renaissance as we speak, so be on the lookout for that soon. Subscribe, etc.)

Lest anyone find it peculiar that I am devoting so much attention to the goings-on at a fairly obscure liberal arts college in Connecticut, after the Friday article’s publication, I received the following message:

I’m an administrator at a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts and part of their COVID response team. I fear our college would do the same as Connecticut College if our cases increase. We’re already testing students twice per week despite a 95%+ vaccination rate. I’m one of a handful of voices in our group trying to be a voice of reason but am outnumbered. I’m going to share your Substack column with our COVID team in the hopes it will make at least some members come around to the side of reason. It breaks my heart to see college students, who should be having one of the best experiences of their lives, treated like prisoners.

One thing that has me very concerned about the Connecticut College situation is that college administrators are generally obsessed with following the example that other colleges set. There is a profound fear of being seen as an outlier. Our COVID response team has already received an email from the leader of the team asking if we would be ready to implement the Connecticut College plan if our COVID cases continue to rise.  

Amazingly there are also parents who push for these measures as they mistakenly believe their child is in grave danger from COVID, despite the fact they are vaccinated and at low risk anyway due to their age. I’m very concerned about the future of higher education since I don’t see a good way out of this. If near 100% vaccination is not sufficient, then what is?

This is why it’s critical for the Connecticut College response to be called out as inappropriate. If it’s not, I guarantee other colleges will follow this example. 

This situation is therefore of greater importance than might initially meet the eye, because it’s a data point in evaluating how much a population is willing to tolerate excessive surveillance, cloyingly bureaucratic micromanagement, and other capricious intrusions into private affairs — even when any conceivable rational basis for such impositions has totally ceased to exist. 

Because if there is tolerance for these measures, there’s no reason to think that in time they won’t be replicated elsewhere, as the anonymous College Administrator who wrote to me warned. And not just at small educational institutions in the Northeast, either. There’s hardly a long cultural distance between these “selective” liberal arts colleges and similarly-disposed, “self-selected” corporate and governmental entities.

So yes, I do find this situation to be surprisingly important, insomuch as it’s a harbinger for what’s potentially to come in other arenas. Unless, of course, people make good on the lessons that they claim to have learned from 9/11 and demand that their institutional overlords’ Emergency Powers be rescinded now that the “Emergency” has plainly ended. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

In light of all this — and at the urging of numerous students who are clearly not in a position to speak on their own behalf — I will be going to the Connecticut College campus in New London, CT tomorrow, September 13, to deliver some remarks on the issue. 4pm EST at Tempel Green. We’ll see what happens!

Here is a video I did, at Rokfin, on the Connecticut College saga.