A Request By UNC System Students for Administrative Response to COVID-19 Conditions

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In response to COVID-19, the UNC system has decided to suspend in-person instruction and move to online course delivery wherever applicable. While this measure has been productive in minimizing the potential spread of COVID-19, the static decision to transition students to internet-based education delivery lacks the nuance necessary for students to achieve maximum academic success in the last months of the 2020 Spring Semester. 

The latest developments from the UNC system have ordered that students vacate all campuses. Many students have come to North Carolina from other time zones. To demand that students be present through Zoom or other video-calling mediums for online instruction, on a schedule specifically dedicated to Eastern Standard Time, is vastly inconsiderate and virtually impossible for some students. Georgetown University students made this analysis: International students and even students living in different parts of the country...would have to stay up or wake up at strange times to "attend" virtual classes. For instance, lectures starting at 8 am in Washington, DC would require that students on the West Coast be up by 5 am to participate in the class.

Many UNC system students come from rural areas. The quality of internet connection made available to many of us in these places does not always render the technological ability that an online education system demands. There are also students, in rural areas or otherwise, who simply do not have access to the internet. To overlook this fact is extremely classist, and it harmfully minimizes the immoveable reality of many UNC System students.

Additionally, there has been little to no talk from the UNC system about how this move will affect students who deal with mental health issues and diagnoses, nor about the general mental well-being of students during this health crisis. Social distancing indeed helps to decrease the risk of spreading infection, but it increases the risk of depression, suicidal thoughts, and other symptoms that accompany mental health issues and diagnoses. Coupling these implications with the stresses of navigating this virus, public panic, loss of income, worry about loved ones, concern for one's own safety, and the responsibilities (and difficulties) of being an online student may have adverse effects on the health and well-being of UNC students, and thus hamper their ability to perform at their best academically. 

In addition to the humane challenges that accompany online learning and social distancing, students also raise concerns around the viability of the grading process—especially in classes where attendance is factored into the final grade. This late in the semester, it would be unwieldy for faculty to have to produce alternative grading methods that are equitable for every student. It is also unfair for students to be graded under the same metrics that existed for in-person courses, when these were not the initial conditions that we consented to when signing up for these courses.

Because of these truths, a coalition of students from different campuses in the UNC system have formulated a list of demands:

1. We demand a clear option for students to choose individually, on a course-by-course basis, how they would like to be graded for the Spring 2020 Semester.
Students can continue on the track to receive a letter grade, but with an automatic curve by one letter grade OR Students can opt for a Pass/Fail grading option instead of a letter grade.

2. We demand that the UNC system prohibits the factoring of attendance into final grades for all course meetings being held online for the remainder of the Spring 2020 online course delivery plan.

3. We demand that the UNC system require professors to post recordings of all online course-meetings in consideration of students living in other time zones.

4. We demand that no decision moving forward from the UNC system or our respective universities will prevent graduating seniors from graduating.

5. We demand that students be able to withdraw from courses until March 30th regardless of course withdrawal deadlines on each campus.

6. We demand that the UNC system and our respective universities waive the course withdrawal limit for Spring 2020, so that all students have the autonomy to choose how to move forward, being that these new conditions are completely out of our control.

7. We demand that no student in the UNC system receive a failing grade for the Spring Semester of 2020.

8. We demand that all coursework submissions be suspended until the UNC system decides how to move forward in reimbursing students for housing and meal plans. 

9. We demand that the UNC system mandates all respective university accessibility resource offices build comprehensive plans for students without access to reliable internet or other necessary technology to complete online course delivery.

10. We demand a thorough response and decision from the UNC system by March 23, 2020 at 5:00pm.

We insist that the UNC system prioritize the best interests and well-being of students during this difficult time.