Just off the phone with an eminent professor emerita of Slavic Languages (my sister) who said she thought many colleges wouldn’t ever reopen. Oh maybe those with huge endowments would..but most of ‘em, not unless they get legislation protecting them from liability.
Leaving aside for the nonce my feelings about the four-year winter sleepover camps which are undergraduate colleges, it seems to me academic institutions are the last businesses who have to worry about indemnity.
Unlike retail businesses where there’s no telling who will walk in the door, colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to extract waivers from all enrollees. They already require students to sign myriad pledges relating to diversity and anti-heterosexuality. All they have to do is add an assumption of the risk of contracting Covid, agreement not to start an action , and a proviso that if they do start suit and lose, they will pay the university’s counsel fees. Maybe give a slight tuition reduction as consideration for the new promise.
Of course this doesn’t mean they couldn’t be sued, and neither would a statute conferring immunity. No law can preliminarily enjoin access to the courts. But it would mean any such suit could Probably be disposed of summarily, and at no cost to the institution, and great cost to the plaintiffs.
Taking a snapshot as of June 2020, it seems to me educational institutions are in much better position than any other businesses. They were paid Tuition through this point, right? And I haven’t heard of any of them offering any tuition refunds. Plus they must’ve saved a lot of money they’d have had to to expend on heat, Janitorial services, food services, etc.
Plus they’ve got their clientele, the Classes of 2024 who, just as recently as April 2019 were fixing all their hopes and dreams on lounging and Frisbee-ing in the Elysian Fields of those grassy quads and lawns overlooked by the Collegiate-Gothic façades ‘n’ spires. Those students—and their parents deriving their status in part from the kids’ achievement—desperately want the campuses to re-open.
Whatever your opinion about the four year residential college paradigm, it seems to me there is no economic reason it can’t continue, at least to give those presently enrolled the benefit of their ruinously expensive bargain.