As life during the COVID-19 pandemic goes on, and the future remains unknown, UST students should have a clear guiding light giving them real-time updates similar to breaking news alerts. However, in recent weeks the University of St. Thomas’ administration has provided anything but that.
On the afternoon of March 28, two weeks after schools like Rice University and the University of Texas announced they were moving classes online for the rest of the semester, UST President Richard Ludwick announced that “classes will not return to classroom instruction this semester and will stay online beyond that as needed.” This wasn’t announced in a UST alert via text, email or phone call. It was announced a whole minute into a nearly two-minute video posted on UST social media platforms ( i.e. Facebook and Instagram and Blackboard.) Updated messages on the stthom and Healthy Celt websites carried the same announcement.
As a result, students have had to constantly search for answers about their classes. Some students have been so busy adjusting to learning online that they didn’t think to watch the video. They thought if an urgent move to online classes for the semester were happening, surely UST would have sent an alert. Instead, UST’s nonchalant announcement to a semester-long move online left students feeling in the lurch, wondering what their next move should be. Though we are glad the University changed to distance learning, the Independent believes the decision should have been made sooner, and that when the decision was announced, it should have been done in an alert.
Though there has been pressure on the University to communicate with students, it seems the announcement was hastily put together. There was a lack of detail in UST’s plans for the rest of the semester, and the delivery was so casual as to almost seem insulting. Students are vigilantly checking their emails daily for any news from administration about what to do next, and to require students to learn the future of their education through Instagram or Facebook posts seems almost juvenile on behalf of the administration.
In his video Ludwick said students have expressed their courage through surveys during the crisis, yet only one survey has been sent out to students via email, and it had to do with the commencement ceremony, or lack thereof, for the spring class of 2020. A feedback survey was also made available to students through Blackboard, but no instructions were given on how to access it, if there is a deadline, or what the survey hopes to achieve. Ludwick also announced there will be “special virtual programs” for seniors, but he did not detail what those programs would be or when they would take place.
The video announcement also unveiled how UST plans to be “together, apart” by announcing “personal success coaches” who will be assigned to each undergraduate to enhance “connections and outcomes,” whatever that is supposed to mean. In an email sent April 1 from Ludwick, it was announced that there will be 50 of these success coaches, and efforts have already begun to reach out to “check on their well-being and identify their needs.”
Meanwhile, the things students are actually anxious about are going unaddressed. Areas of concern for students include whether UST will institute a pass/fail grading system for the semester like the University of Houston, and whether students can expect any refunds. Students have taken to the stthom app to express their concerns and questions about the evolving situation under COVID-19; the opportunity is ripe for the administration to step in and clear up the confusion evidenced by these posts, but aside from one or two comments by Director of Residence Life Ana Alicia Lopez and Assistant Dean of Students Amanda Villanueva, the opportunity is being wasted and misinformation abounds. In his April 1 email, Ludwick wrote that the pass-fail grading system proposal and new refund policies have been reviewed by the administration and sent to the board of directors for approval, but again, that information did not appear in the app where the discussion is actually taking place.
Rather than administrators, it is students and a select number of faculty who have added clarification to rumors, or reassured the anxieties of the UST community. The Independent wants the UST administration to become a better source of information for students in this difficult time instead of creating more confusion. Clear, precise answers need to be provided to the questions students are actually asking, in forums that students frequently visit–the stthom app and University-wide alerts–rather than in emails and Blackboard announcements.