Extreme precautions taken by MUN administration during the COVID-19 pandemic says students

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According to a recently obtained access-to-information request, many students took issue with the precautions taken by Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN)’s administration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some students go as far as to say that several of the precautions were extreme.

A student asked a question about research that takes place a few times a year, “does environmental research dependent on phenomena that only occur once or twice a year count as something that can not be paused? For example, phytoplankton bloom in the Spring and the Summer or the Spring floods caused by snowmelt. Postponing fieldwork for these events sets back research not by a couple of months but by a year.”

The student then asked an additional question, “if students are unable to enter school in a safe and responsible way to conduct their research and learn the technical skills, they came to learn. How can we, the students, be expected to graduate feeling confident we can succeed in the workplace?”

“What is Memorial’s reasoning for its drastic response when Newfoundland has been fortunate in being less affected than other provinces?”

Student

The student then asked a question comparing MUN to other universities, “in other provinces, while universities have taken necessary precautions to curb outbreak and transmission of COVID-19 they have not completely closed down research and teaching labs, operating at limited capacity, staggering labs and reducing contact. What is Memorial’s reasoning for its drastic response when Newfoundland has been fortunate in being less affected than other provinces?”

“If this can work for areas such as restaurants, which are much higher risk, why can it not work for fieldwork where there is even less risk?”

Student

Next, a question was asked about fieldwork, “last year during the initial outbreak, Memorial chose to cancel any and all fieldwork happening that year, while some found it extreme it can be argued that at this time with limited information about the virus, this was the right decision.” The student then states that it has been a whole year since then and more information about the virus is now available. They said that it is now known that transmission is more likely to happen in indoor spaces with poor circulation and not enough room to distance. The student then said that fieldwork being conducted outdoors carries low risk with potentially enough space to socially distance. The student stated that in cases where distance can not be maintained that masks can be worn to prevent transmission. The student asked, “if this can work for areas such as restaurants, which are much higher risk, why can it not work for fieldwork where there is even less risk?”

The student then raised the issue about the university’s policy to only allow students in their last years on campus to conduct research. The student pointed out that this could also work for students at the Master’s level who often complete course work in the first year and lab work in the second. The student then points to students completing a Ph.D. and how these students conduct research and lab work throughout their degree and not just in their last year. The student said that the policy negatively impacts the progress of Ph.D. students. The student asked the question “do you have any potential solutions for these students?”

Another student asked a similar question regarding MUN’s closure, “In Newfoundland, we have seen many individuals return to work, children return to school, and it sometimes feels like university students are never going to be able to return to a sense of normalcy.” The student asked the question, “besides the recommendation from the Chief Medical Officer of Health and her team, what criteria is Memorial University looking at/for when deciding to open up campuses across Newfoundland and Labrador? Will this depend on how many students/staff are vaccinated?”

“It sometimes feels like university students are never going to be able to return to a sense of normalcy.”

Student

This student then asked a question regarding barriers students face from studying at home, “in many cases, students have barriers at home that prevent them from achieving their full potential. Multiple university campuses across Canada have decided to open up their residences so students can have access to a safe place to continue their studies. If classes were to remain online for the 2021-2022 semester, would Memorial University consider opening up residences for students to would like to escape whatever challenges they may face at home?”

The student then asked a question about how long remote learning will last. The student stated “although remote learning has improved drastically from March 2020, many students still face a larger workload, increased stress, and an increased strain on their mental and physical health. Does Memorial University feel that remote learning is a long-term solution and is this affecting how quickly we return to campus?”

“Many students still face a larger workload, increased stress, and an increased strain on their mental and physical health.”

Student

A question was then asked regarding student-parents and the challenges that these students are facing during the pandemic. The student said that a survey was conducted for student-parents about what challenges and barriers they have been facing the current semester and last semester. The student stated that the results “show that student-parents are finding it extremely difficult to complete their studies while children are at home due to the closure of schools and daycares, with some receiving poor grades, having missed scheduled tests, having to drop courses, and deferring their admittance to a Ph.D. program.” The student asked, “if a student-parent receives a poor or failing grade due to circumstances like this that are beyond their control, will they be permitted to receive alternative methods of evaluation, such as extra-take paper or quizzes/exams that are NOT timed?”

Provost and Vice-President (Academic) Mark Abrahams thanked the student for their email and question. Abrahams said that it is best for student-parents who require accommodations due to the difficulty they experience with a course’s assessments to discuss it with the instructor of the course “to find alternative methods of evaluation that address the unique circumstances of each individual.” Abrahams then stated that it would be best for this conversation to take place at the beginning of the course, but if student-parents encounter difficulties during the course then this conversation should take place at the earliest opportunity. Abrahams said that he hopes that the students find this advice to be helpful.

Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.

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