It seems that everything is going into quarantine around Australia, except our universities.
Coronavirus might be causing nation-wide disruption and social restriction – from state of emergency declarations, to travel restrictions and mandatory self-isolation, bans on large public gatherings, and supermarket brawls. And yet, Australia’s tertiary institutions remain open for business. Despite some students returning positive test results.
It’s all fine, they don’t need to shut down.
But students are getting suspicious of their institutions. They’re beginning to wonder whether their schools are withholding critical information and that (the inevitable) campus shut-downs and online-learning transitions are being delayed until after key census dates.
Students wonder if universities are more concerned about their hip-pocket, than students’ health and wellbeing – and, moreover, that of society.
Things That Make You Go Hmm…
Suspicion was raised first on the USYD Rants 2.0 Facebook page.
The “word on the street”, the post in question reads, was that the campus wouldn’t shut down for weeks.
“I reckon they’re waiting until we’re past census date and can’t abort before they tell us we’re paying to learn from home,” it reads.
A census date, for those wondering, is the date when students’ enrolment is set in stone and they become academically and financially liable. In other words, students can’t change their semester classes without having to pay – with their grades or their wallets.
So, it’s a pretty big date.
The Facebook post was made hours after the Office of the University’s Vice Chancellor, Dr. Michael Spence,announced that a student had tested positive for COVID-19. Classmates and teaching staff had been advised to (optionally) self-isolate, and the student’s classrooms (that had already been shared by thousands of students for over three weeks of semester) were being “intensively cleaned”.
But, still, the campus remained open. Business continued as usual.
And, sure, the post – anonymously made on a Facebook group used for angst-filled rants – could be palmed off as pure conspiracy nonsense.
And, I suppose, dozens of students commenting how “it makes so much sense”, or sarcastically quipping about how much “[USyd] really care about us and our health and not just their money”, could be dismissed.
But when a student from across the pond at the University of New South Wales raises the same concerns, the mind begins to wonder what’s really going on.
Thanks For The Email, I Guess?
Terry Papadakis was in his tutorial when he received an email. It read that one of “our students” is “self-isolating while awaiting test results, having been tested for COVID-19.”
Papadakis posted a screenshot of the email to the UNSW Discussion Group. He says he “got kicked out [of his tutorial] and have to go home and quarantine myself for two weeks.”
But that’s not what’s strange.
What’s strange is the timing of the email. It went out “the day after census”, Papadakis wrote, “knowing that students had classes on Monday.”
“[T]hey had hazmat suited people cleaning the crim2020 classroom they were in, so obviously they [UNSW] knew, but they fucked up in their duty of care purely because they greedily wanted to keep uni open.”
Students who may want to defer their course for one semester, or discontinue their studies for a course they’ll be learning from home now have to pay. Students are paying to learn from home.
UNSW has remained open, despite the most recent positive COVID-19 test result coming on Sunday night. Yep, the night before Terry received that email. The Uni’s first positive result came in January.
Students Are (Rightly) Pissed, But Stay Calm.
Naturally, students are all for shutting up shop – and not just so we can go to class in PJs (some of us already do that, tyvm). But it’s logical.
It’s only inevitable that universities – and all educational institutions – will close. They are hotbeds for disease. The Fresher’s Flu? It’s definitely legit. A cold goes through a uni campus quicker than a sack of goon is emptied at a house party (ew, but true).
Lecturers and tutors have been warning classes about the impending shut-down for weeks. Students have been ready for online learning since [before] semester started. Yet, Uni’s say they’re only starting the transition to online learning.
But, when most (if not all) of our learning materials and assessments are accessed and submitted online, that seems strange. If the infrastructure is already there, what’s the delay?
Yeah, I can understand how it’s easy to fall into the conspiracy, and to think the worst of big, fancy institutions. And, yeah, in some wacky world, I can see how it might be real.
But let’s not forget: this stuff takes time, and Universities are big beasts.
There are thousands of students, hundreds of staff, and hundreds (maybe thousands) of courses to negotiate amid the crisis. It’s going to take time to move everything from campuses to online classrooms. And whilst they may have been preparing behind-the-scenes, the COVID-19 situation keeps accelerating exponentially, so of course they’ve been caught a little unprepared.
But they are doing their best.
Yes, students are right to raise their concerns; and we all love a conspiracy theory. But there’s no need to start rioting, or TP-ing campuses with stockpiled toilet paper.
We contacted USyd and UNSW for comment, they are both yet to respond.
The University of Sydney’s Response:
The University of Sydney have announced a campus-wide shut-down from Monday 23 March. All teaching and learning will be delivered online.
Obviously, this is all before census date.
A spokesperson said “as of last week [USyd] had already made over 500 of our units of study available online for a full semester.”
But they’ve ramped up the transition, moving all classes off-campus.
In the email announcement, Vice Chancellor Dr. Michael Spence said “the safety and wellbeing of our community is paramount.”
“We continue to work closely with NSW Health to ensure we are doing all we can to help slow the spread of the virus in our community.
We are taking all necessary steps to reduce the number of students and staff required to attend campus.
The campus is still safe to attend, so remains open, but there are no face-to-face classes until further notice.
Brace yourselves for hectic Zoom video-conference tutes and bulk discussion group notifications. But at least you do it from the comfort of your own home.
UNSW is still yet to comment.
Image Sources: Facebook (USYD Rants 2.0, UNSW Discussion Group), Unsplash (Eriksson Luo)