COVID-19, the disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus, has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind, with summer study abroad programs being cancelled and cases popping up daily across the country. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s communication through email has come in a steady stream of increasing concern. Most recently, UMBC sent out a message informing students that faculty will be preparing to “move all classes to online instruction” if needed.
But while moving classes online is a good start to prevent interaction, and potentially the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19, students have much more than just classes on their plates. The university’s preparations for an epidemic need to account for the fact that most students’ lives do not revolve around school.
Consider, for example, the number of students who hold part-time employment here on campus. Should classes go fully online, will those students’ employers be required to offer students remote hours? What about students whose jobs require them to be physically present, like front of house staff and residential hall desk staffers? Some students rely on their on-campus, hourly jobs to pay the bills; it is unfair to take away their primary source of income while continuing to make them pay tuition on what may end up being a lower-quality education.
This is not to say that online courses are innately inferior to in-person classes, but there are elements of in-person classes, like collaboration, that are just not possible when you’re learning through clicks and videos. Working with faculty members when confusion about concepts arises is also very difficult when it comes to online courses. Some departments would face particular difficulty when moving to online courses, like the theatre department, which relies on students being able to give performances and build costumes and sets in designated spaces. STEM classes with a lab component would face similar issues.
For this potential transition to go as smoothly as possible, these details need to be explained candidly to students, staff and faculty. However, as of now, the university has not done so.
While COVID-19 is still considered an epidemic (a more limited disease outbreak), UMBC has a pandemic plan with a system of levels based off of severity. However, the pandemic plan isn’t readily available online. Students have to fill out a Freedom of Information Act request in order to view the plan in full. The Retriever asked the Office of Institutional Advancement for the plan, but after being declined, filled out the FOIA request on March 9.
When students receive general guidance about possible preparations, and the same warnings about washing hands, administration is both diminishing the severity of the problem and not trusting students to disseminate information by themselves. By not providing the pandemic plan online for students to review or refer to on their own time, the administration is doing students a huge disservice.
Students are just as nervous and scared as administration. We know that the pandemic plan won’t answer all of our questions, but by releasing the levels of the pandemic plan, administration will at least answer a few of the many questions students have. Additionally, it will show students that even though the plan is in flux (because of the ever-changing situation), that we do, indeed, have a plan.
In 2018, University of Maryland College Park students suffered the consequences of a private pandemic plan. Students were not notified of an adenovirus outbreak until 18 days after UMD officials learned of it, leaving those on campus in a heightened state of vulnerability and unawareness. This had devastating consequences, namely the death of student Olivia Paregol after contracting adenovirus. The lack of a public pandemic plan only perpetuates the anxieties and unpreparedness of campus students and their families, forcing the affected into ignorance.
Information regarding student safety should not be withheld from the students regardless of whether we’ve had a case of COVID-19 on our campus. The key to prevention is preparation, and the students’ right to prepare is seemingly being hindered through lack of accessibility.