Students react to University response to COVID-19 outbreak

Laura Studley

With the coronavirus outbreak, institutions, businesses and companies have been left with many unknowns. Universities are no exception. 

The first cluster of pneumonia cases, later identified as being caused by COVID-19, was reported in December in Wuhan, China. Since then, death tolls, financial hardships and questions have risen. 

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At the time of writing, there have been 4,088,393 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and of these cases, there have been 281,898 reported deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have been implemented to quell the spread of the virus. 

Map via Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Colorado State University has been working to provide resources, support and communication for students during this time of uncertainty, but some feel it is not enough. 

“I’ve never felt like Joyce (McConnell) has really connected with the student body,” said CSU senior Devin, who requested only his first name be used due fear of retaliation by the University. “I thought that this might be the time she stepped up, but I was wrong. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve felt as though she’s not really listening to the issues the students are having, or she stops communicating and leaves that to the vice provost.”

The president said she recognizes the challenges of students, stating her concern, empathy and worry in a statement emailed to The Collegian

“This is an extraordinarily difficult time for all of us, but I know it’s been uniquely challenging for you,” McConnell wrote. “In the last month, you’ve had to abruptly say goodbye to friends and mentors, leave our beautiful campus and shift to an entirely new learning modality. We are so proud of all of you.” 

CSU decided on March 11 to temporarily transition to online instruction. Other Colorado universities also decided to temporarily move online or move online for the remainder of the semester at that point, including the University of Colorado Boulder, Metropolitan State University and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Five days later, on March 16, CSU decided to implement online instruction for the remainder of the semester.

Despite this action, some CSU students are unhappy with how the University has dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak.

I’m super disappointed in the lack of communication. I receive a ton of emails per day about superfluous details of things that don’t apply to me, but I don’t get emails or receive information about things that actually matter. -Lauren Thomas, second-year biology major

“I think (the way CSU has handled things) has been really deficient,” said junior mathematics major Garrett, who requested only his first name be used in fear of potential consequences from the University. “They dragged their feet without a good or organized protocol for online courses and administration.” 

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Online class

On March 16, the president announced that CSU would be transitioning to online learning for the remainder of the spring semester. 

The University has not properly taught staff members how to conduct classes on an online platform, making things more complicated than it should be, said CSU freshman journalism and media communications major Thomas Taylor. 

“I have one class that does Zoom, another that does YouTube and a third that just posts PDFs,” Taylor said. “Outside of this, I had a professor in the computer science department abandon our class and make all 300 of us another teacher’s problem.” 

For sophomore horticulture major Abigail Christ, the move to online classes has been a positive experience. Her professors have been both responsive and understanding during this time. 

“I’ve seen on social media that a lot of other college students feel that they’re teaching themselves, and their professors are not being sympathetic to the drastic changes in students’ lives,” Christ said. “If anything, my professors are more responsive and offer video chat office hours and other such amendments.”

Adapting to online classes has proven difficult for third-year psychology major Adam, who requested his last name not be published due to fear of possible backlash from the University.

Additionally, his need for academic assistance has made the transition to online learning even more taxing. He said whenever he asks for advice, he is told to do his work somewhere quiet or put his phone away. 

“I feel (this advice) is almost a way of shifting the blame of how challenging this has become onto students by implying that it’s on us to make this easier,” Adam said. “The reality of the situation is that since we have moved to online class, the workload has not only become larger, but occupies significantly more time.”  

CSU has solutions in place that may help students navigate online classes better. Students should follow the same processes they would when classes are in person. If students have issues, they should contact the department head, according to Public Safety and Risk Communications Manager Dell Rae Ciaravola.

“If the issue is not resolved, they can reach out to the dean,” Ciaravola wrote in an email to The Collegian. “Their adviser may also be able to help them. If the student is experiencing a personal or family crisis — illness, etc., Student Case Management also can help.” 

Refunds

CSU Provost and Executive Vice President Rick Miranda sent out an email on March 30 informing students that they would not be receiving a refund on tuition or fees, as the University is anticipating to complete the semester. Miranda’s emailed statement said that student fees will continue to be used for services, spaces, support and opportunities for the student body as a whole. 

“CSU’s refusal to issue a refund for anything, particularly student services, is almost a huge f*ck you,” Adam said. 

Many programs funded by student fees will continue to be available for students during the spring semester through online or other virtual systems, Miranda wrote in a statement. 

CSU libraries have created new services and strengthened existing ones to support research, teaching and learning in a completely online environment, according to the statement.

This is an extraordinarily difficult time for all of us, but I know it’s been uniquely challenging for you. In the last month, you’ve had to abruptly say goodbye to friends and mentors, leave our beautiful campus and shift to an entirely new learning modality. We are so proud of all of you.”  -Joyce McConnell, president of CSU

There are numerous fees students are charged with, including the alternative transportation fee, the University facility fee and general fees. These fees allow for students to have access to the Transfort bus system, Student Recreation Center facilities and equipment, Lory Student Center operations, RamEvents and other services. 

“My frustration is with the college not refunding half a semester worth of fees,” said CSU junior philosophy major Kaleb Morgan. “I don’t even know what a general fee is, but it seems bogus, and the fact that I’m getting charges for a full semester of the rec center and library services is beyond frustrating.”

Student fees are not being refunded, as the services the costs cover are still being offered online through personal connections, and in limited cases, in person, Ciaravola said. 

The University has made use of student fees during COVID-19, providing students with various resources, including virtual fitness classes, free electronic materials from the CSU Bookstore, counseling services and more. 

CSU is not retaining student fees because of a budget shortfall, according to Ciaravola, though the higher education sector received only $14.2 billion from the federal government. Of that, only $6 billion will be made available to institutions to deal with lost revenue, according to a statement McConnell released.

“Although the federal government has stepped in with some recovery funds for higher education, the announced dollar amount falls far below what the higher education economic sector will need to truly recover,” McConnell wrote in the statement. 

CSU freshman business major Suzy Morgan sent an email to McConnell and members in charge of Student Affairs stating her concerns. As a student who had to take out loans for school, Morgan said not receiving a refund for University services is both ridiculous and worrisome.

“Not doing anything about the thousands upon thousands of dollars students lost shows that (CSU does) not care,” Morgan wrote in an email to the University that was then forwarded to The Collegian. “Not to mention the international kids that can’t go home and may be tight on money or the out-of-state kids that paid double just to be sent home or cooped up in residence halls.”

The University encouraged international students to go home if possible at the point they were able to get home, Ciaravola wrote. According to Ciaravola, most of these students chose to return home and arrived prior to travel restrictions; however, some wanted or needed to stay for personal or professional reasons, so they are still in Fort Collins.

The University did receive $8.8 million in emergency funds for students experiencing financial difficulties. The funds were part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act signed into law at the end of March. Payments range between $500 and $1,500 depending on student need. CSU will disburse the money but not retain any of the funds, according to SOURCE

Traveling abroad

On April 13, CSU suspended nearly all of its summer programs abroad scheduled through mid-June due to the coronavirus pandemic.  

And though students were required to cut their trips short, the University is working to make sure students feel taken care of, said sophomore interior architecture and design major Max Meyer.

“The level of support and communication coming from CSU was wonderful, especially when compared with (the School for International Training),” said junior watershed science major Lenka Doskocil. 

CSU was very good about communicating what was happening on their end compared to the silence she was receiving from SIT, Doskocil said. 

“The contrast between this and the support I was getting from CSU was pretty stark and made me very grateful to go to school where I do,” Doskocil said. 

The University has been great at helping study abroad students transition back through providing financial assistance for CSU Global classes, Meyer said.

Additionally, CSU has reached out several times to the students who were abroad to check in, make sure students were getting their credits and connect them with online programming, Doskocil said. 

Emails

There have been numerous communications exchanged by the University and its students regarding COVID-19 and beyond. 

“I’m super disappointed in the lack of communication,” said CSU second-year biology major Lauren Thomas. “I receive a ton of emails per day about superfluous details of things that don’t apply to me, but I don’t get emails or receive information about things that actually matter.” 

McConnell has sent out several emails to the University community regarding COVID-19 and is quoted in a Public Safety Team email about the outbreak.

“I guess it just feels like every University-wide email has felt like it’s just ‘stay strong’ and ‘message of hope’ instead of any practical information,” Meyer said. 

Offices share information based on their roles, according to Ciaravola. Major University decisions come from the president, academic communications about broad topics typically come from the Office of the Provost and health and safety communications come from the Public Safety Team, Ciaravola wrote. 

“Colleges, degree programs and other units also are communicating with students about things that are the responsibility of those units,” Ciaravola wrote. 

Student workers

The University ensures that full-time employees are a priority, according to a presidential statement

According to the statement, full-time permanent jobs will be protected by selectively using reserves, reducing staff through attrition and retirement, limiting hiring to critical positions and controlling expenses. 

“Our concern for (University employees) guides every decision we make as we strive to balance community needs with the steps we have to take to protect public health,” McConnell said in an email to The Collegian.

The University is also continuing to pay student workers. 

“Even though I’m not working and the position isn’t suited to work from home, I am still being paid my normal hourly pay,” Christ said. “That stability has allowed me to continue to pay my bills, remain here in Fort Collins, tuck away extra for the unpredictable economy in coming years due to the crisis and put money towards my future education.” 

For more information on how student University employees have been impacted, read “From eating less to losing lab experiments, student workers struggle amid coronavirus outbreak.” 

Laura Studley can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @laurastudley_.