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When I think about the value of higher education, the term “marine heatwave” comes to mind. Not because higher education is remotely like a marine heatwave, though I’m sure a more skilled writer could come up with a metaphorical connection. It’s because marine heatwaves need higher education. More specifically, they need liberal education.

For presidential spouses at colleges and universities, the many hours of our day are usually spent welcoming guests to the president’s residence and cohosting events for students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, community members, and visitors from the local community or across the world. This sheltering in place during the pandemic, this pause in our busy lives, has given us an opportunity to reclaim our interests and solitary activities often set aside for our campus responsibilities.

As COVID-19 spread and other colleges and universities followed suit, the presidents of community colleges—institutions that have fewer resources and serve more at-risk students—were forced to think cautiously about the decision to close. On the one hand, there is the concern for safety; on the other, concerns about the realities of students’ lives. What exactly would community college students be going home to? 

The perspectives offered by philosophers and historians are more critical than ever as we confront the metaphysics of being human and conscious of living in the world. For despite the extraordinary advances that have been made in science over the centuries, appealing to technology is futile when it comes to grappling with the most fundamental questions of human existence rendered unavoidable by the proliferation of the coronavirus.