Allow incoming USC freshman to defer

Allow incoming USC freshman to defer

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Jonathan Hayden started this petition to University of Southern California

Dear Carol Folt, president of USC, and Charles Zukowski, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs:

In USC’s mission statement, the stated first priority of faculty and staff is the “education of our students, from freshmen to postdoctorals, through a broad array of academic, professional, extracurricular and athletic programs of the first rank.” In one of the recent emails sent out to undergraduate students, one of the pillars underlining USC’s work has been “flexibility.” USC has failed to uphold both of these values through its policy on gap years for first-year students. 

USC’s deferral policy reads as follows: 

“Can I delay or defer my undergraduate admission to a future term?

In specific cases relating to medical issues, religious obligations or required military/national service, admission deferrals may be available. However, deferral requests for other reasons will not generally be granted. New students who have committed to enroll at USC but fail to do so will forfeit their spot in the entering class and will need to reapply (with no guarantee of admission) should they wish to attend the university in a future term.”

The reality of this policy is one that is both inflexible and insensitive to incoming students’ education and wellbeing. In a normal year, incoming freshmen adjust to an unfamiliar environment. For many, this is the first time they are the ones primarily responsible for their future, including picking a career path, determining their interests, considering internships among other co-curricular opportunities, and making other long-lasting decisions about their future. Normally — as mentioned in USC’s mission statement — this is done through a “broad array of academic, professional, extracurricular and athletic programs of the first rank.” Normally, with USC’s welcoming student culture, guiding counselors, burgeoning friendships, and other support systems. 

Unfortunately, the situation is not normal. 

While USC’s efforts to expand their technical, financial, and educational support is to be commended, it is not and can not be enough to deal with the reality of the situation. Where students have to balance the illnesses of immediate family members with navigating an untested environment; where students are forced to deal with an online education system contrary to the one they have spent 12 or more years with while supporting family and siblings with their own struggles; where the disruption of everyday life and the onset of isolation has an insidious effect on mental health that compounds with the very real fears for many of surviving a terrible economy with the highest unemployment rates ever — the situation is indeed not normal.

This policy is even more punitive for the vulnerable people within USC’s population — including students who are low-income, first-generation, racial minorities, coming from turbulent home-environments, among others. For many students, the incredible work done by the USC staff to make the fall semester successful will be enough. For many students, it won’t. 

This is more than just a public health crisis: it is an economic one as well. The option to defer now rather than take a leave of absence later will allow students to avoid accumulating interest on their loans. Additionally, a gap year allows students to deal with unaccounted-for expenses: increasing healthcare costs or time spent not working to care for an ill relative are all too common. A gap year offers students an opportunity to defer their studies to pursue work and care for loved ones during this crisis. 

USC ought to be flexible and grant students the choice to do what is best for their education rather than forcing them between virulently unacceptable learning conditions and dropping out before classes have even begun. Even if some people are granted an exception and allowed to defer, students should not have to commodify and leverage their trauma to do so. Nor should their lives be at the mercy of someone who likely has not experienced the difficulties that individuals may be going through. USC clearly recognizes this as they allow all other USC students to take an unstipulated leave of absence. This courtesy should be extended to freshmen as well. 

This policy, at this time in history, will tar many students’ futures. For many, USC’s “broad array of academic, professional, extracurricular and athletic programs of the first rank” are what allow people to achieve success in their field of competition, network effectively, gain vital experience in their career path, and otherwise enjoy the many benefits of a traditional USC education. These experiences offered by USC are truly the opportunity for many to achieve the lives that they want, and to contribute what they want to the lives of others. 

Many other peer institutions such as Tufts University and Duke University have allowed students to take a gap year. Dartmouth College recently allowed students to take a gap year after concerned alumni posted a petition about their policy disallowing them. We ask USC to join their peer universities and offer their students the same option.

In addition, we ask that USC put on hold Mork, Stamps, Trustee, Presidential, and all other scholarships the university has awarded for the duration of the deferral similar to their policy on leave of absences. 

If possible, students should have the option to defer to the Spring semester as well to best be flexible for the students who desire that option.

This is not posed as a censure of the institution: students recognize the uncharted difficulties that USC is facing — among them, a dynamically evolving scenario combined with no precedent to rely upon — and the enormous work that USC staff has put into making the fall semester a worthwhile one for many students. However, we as students have chosen USC because we know that USC can and must do better. It is because we know that we will fit in at USC that we were admitted and have chosen the university. It is because we love USC that we want to join its community only at a time when we can succeed. 

Thus we ask for you to allow first-year students to defer their matriculation and to put students first. Thank you for your consideration, and fight on.

 - Concerned Trojans

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