Petition to give University students the option to take classes online circulates, gains over a thousand signatures
Max Lander | Friday, August 28, 2020
A petition has recently been circulating among members of the Notre Dame community online as a Google Doc. The petition, which is titled “Notre Dame Petition for an Online Semester and Student Safety,” calls on the University administration to take specific steps to ensure greater student safety and to allow students the option to, if they choose, return home and continue the remainder of the semester online.
The petition, which has over 1,000 signatories, states that it is a collaborative effort of Notre Dame students, faculty, staff and alumni.
“Students are being required to continue to live under the same unsafe conditions that endangered their lives and health in the first place,” the petition states. “If students are willing to take that risk, they can, but only if immediate steps are taken to make their lives safer. However, no student who does not wish to take that risk should be forced to do so.”
The petition calls on the administration to mandate that all classes will remain available online, and give any student who wants permission to study online — including students who were previously denied accommodations to do so.
The petition also calls on the University to, “begin systematic COVID-19 testing of the entire student population as part of a safe, staggered move-out process for students who elect to leave campus to study remotely.” The petition says that students should be able to return home once reliably testing negative for the coronavirus and that they should not be required to return for the rest of the semester.
Finally, the petition calls on the University to make sure that all students are, “physically safe and financially able to withstand the dangers and burdens of this epidemic at Notre Dame.”
Sierra Stinson, a sophomore who signed the petition, said she learned of it through a group chat she is a part of, and she added her name to the petition for various reasons.
“I don’t want to put Notre Dame’s administration down at all, that’s not my intention,” Stinson said. “But I have seen a lot of unpreparedness from the administration with testing and how they’re handling it. I feel like the safety of the students has been compromised because of the motivations to stay open and I think the University has a moral obligation to go fully online for the South Bend community and their students.”
However, Stinson said it is also important that the petition also stipulated that students should be able to choose to stay on campus and attend online instruction there if they wished.
“There are a lot of students here who have bad family circumstances or they get more resources here than they do at home,” she said. “So I think it is important to allow the option for kids to remain on campus.”
Stinson said she would have liked to see more testing in the first weeks of the semester, and would like to see more testing, especially surveillance testing, going forward.
“First, I think everyone should have been tested when we first got here,” she said. “There definitely should have been surveillance testing like one to two times a week for every student.”
Other schools around the country, such as Princeton or University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have outlined testing protocols which include required testing twice a week for on-campus undergraduates.
Another student and signatory of the petition, junior Alexander Clay, said he would have liked to see the semester begin online from the start.
“What I would have liked to see is them not opening at all and having the entire semester virtually and providing those kids who may not have had a very good environment the resources they needed to have a successful semester,” Clay said. “I thought that bringing us back in any capacity would be a big mistake.”
One thing both Stinson and Clay mentioned was the lack of transparency and clear communication between students and the administration.
“Of course I hoped it would work out, but in order for it to work out it would have needed to have transparency from the beginning between the student body and the administration and we didn’t have that when we needed it,” Stinson said. “Student government has been trying very hard to create that transparency, but I feel like it’s already too late.”
Not all the signatories of the petition are Notre Dame students — signatures include those of staff, parents, community members and faculty. Sarah McKibben, an associate professor for Notre Dame’s department of Irish language and literature, is one such signatory. She said she learned of the petition early on through its authors.
“I am friends with the main authors of the petition and I was invited to contribute to help edit and write it, though it was mostly done by the time I saw it,” McKibben said. “So I just heard about it because I’m part of a large group composed of faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduates who are kind of broadly interconnected by our shared concern over the University’s decision.”
McKibben said she and other faculty members shared concerns about transparency on data and decision making from the administration.
“The lack of transparency has been really terribly unfortunate. If you look into public health matters, people will tell you that one of the rules for public health is it has got to be transparent,” she said. “People don’t trust you if you’re not being transparent and if they can poke holes in what you say then they’re going to be filled with skepticism and the whole thing just falls apart.”
McKibben said the faculty and staff have, by and large, been under-consulted by the administration regarding the plans and protocols for reopening for an in-person semester.
“The faculty were not told of that ahead of time and at no point was the entire faculty or all employees consulted or surveyed to see what we felt, what we wanted, what we thought we were capable of, what we thought was safe,” McKibben said.
McKibben also expressed she felt the University has failed to approach this problem collaboratively and failed to center-science and effectively utilize experts with relevant experience and their advice in the administration’s decision making process.
“We all really earnestly hope that all the students and employees will be ok even if they do get COVID-19, but the disastrous fiasco with testing and contact tracing and quarantine was preceded by real problems with communication and consultation and the lack of a collaborative decision making process,” she said. “My experience of the University’s decision making is that it has been top-down, it has not been inclusive, and it has not been collaborative. I think that the appropriate thing to do is to default to let people teach online.”
Notre Dame’s spokesman said the University has been listening to critiques from the public.
“The University has acknowledged some missteps in the early going and worked quickly to improve the process,” University Spokesmen Dennis Brown said on the petition. “We also have listened to the many suggestions that have been offered and implemented several, such as additions to the daily dashboard. The suggestions in this petition will likewise be considered.”