Earlier this month, the Chancellor’s Cabinet proposed a schedule that would involve classes starting on September 7, Fall Break and Thanksgiving Eve Break being eliminated and exams being held from December 17 to December 23. The Student Government Association (SGA) had a virtual meeting with the Chancellor’s Cabinet, including Provost Joan Lorden and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Dr. Kevin Bailey, on May 12 to discuss the proposed schedule.
Freshman At-Large Senator Dick Beekman’s Letter to the Editor submitted to the Niner Times, finds that the reasons behind the fall schedule are as follows: There is a delay to the start of the semester due to the projected peak of COVID-19 in the Charlotte Mecklenburg area, to give professors enough time to prepare for their classes, and to provide incoming students with the traditional college experience. The SGA had arguments of their own in response to these reasons: that this schedule will affect a student’s mental health, academic ability and the ability for them to spend time with their families.
In no way, shape or form am I promoting the SGA, nor am I discouraging the work of the Chancellor’s Office; however, I place my position behind the SGA. The Provost’s nonchalance towards mental health is unacceptable.
To combat the reasons the SGA had addressed about the proposal from the Chancellor’s office, Provost Joan Lorden downplayed the effects this schedule could have on students’ mental health by saying “I really don’t think October 12 and October 13 are going to make that much difference in peoples’ mental health” and that “The question of what the semester actually looks like in terms of breaks and so forth, is not something that we know that much about in terms of a student’s mental health.” Provost Lorden then began her focus on the incoming student experience to justify the new Fall 2020 schedule explaining that online classes would not be able to contribute to incoming freshman experience of meeting people and moving into residence halls.
Senator Jakob Nusinov asked about the ability for faculty to provide a similar experience for all students if they decide to go see their families during Thanksgiving break. Provost Lorden responded with a quick spiel about how driving home for Thanksgiving is better that morning rather than the day before then continues to say she’ll talk to faculty and that faculty will be able to figure out their semester planning. This then furthered the Chancellor’s Cabinet’s agenda of giving professors more time to plan for the semester. Senator Nusinov also explained how breaks, specifically Fall break, help with students’ academic abilities during upcoming exams and as a whole, and asked if eliminating breaks was an opinion of the Provost or the Chancellor’s cabinet. The Provost replied with “We are concerned about the mental health of students.” And then personally urges that professors should find new ways to evaluate their students rather than taking high-stakes tests in accordance to the new schedule, explaining that “That’s what puts pressure on people, not whether they have a couple of extra days to study.”
Every response Provost Lorden has provided has proved that the Chancellor’s Cabinet claims to understand students’ mental health, but they don’t seem to care about it as much as the need for a traditional freshman on-boarding experience. This reason seems to bring a major disconnect between the Chancellor’s Cabinet and the SGA. With the proposed schedule from the Chancellor’s Cabinet, courses will be continuous and flooding into the midterm and final exam periods of the semester. Having fall break right before midterms and Thanksgiving Break right before final exams not only gives a student time to study, but it also gives them a mental break to relax before they have to start studying again. And this break can also help mitigate the stress from school with exposure to family.
In response to this new schedule, Senator Beekman has proposed an alternative schedule: starting the semester on its regular date, Aug.24, and having classes online for about two weeks, and then if it is safe to do so, students can transition into classes in person which is much more easier than having an in-class to online transition like the Spring 2020 semester. With the SGA’s alternative Fall 2020 semester schedule, the freshman experience won’t necessarily be rid of, but rather delayed and I’m sure those students will understand that there must be certain changes in the event of a global pandemic. This alternative also addresses the rest of the student body, not only incoming freshmen.
I would like to inform my readers that the new Chancellor, Dr. Sharon Gaber, has no say over this proposal. If anything, Chancellor Dubois has the greatest influence over this decision within the Chancellor’s cabinet until he leaves. So, my questions to Dubois are: Do you really want to leave like this? And do you really want the new Chancellor to start off on the wrong foot with her students? I understand your priorities are supposed to be what’s best and what’s safe students; however, mental health should be prioritized first which is inherently what is best for students.
So why did the Provost undermine or brush off mental health arguments? Is the new schedule really built around a student’s ability to learn? I understand that students at any university are paying for a university experience alongside focusing on their degree; however, in the case of a global pandemic, we must not forget what college is really about—education. Without proper mental health, students will not be able to achieve what they actually came to college for. This pandemic has already set a number of students behind on their career paths with the cancellation of internships and programs such as study abroad. Chancellor Dubois, do you really want to be responsible for more hindrance right before you leave?
Decisions should be made on what is most practical and beneficial to everyone in the UNC Charlotte community. This decision does not seem to benefit the one factor of campus that helps the institution run—the students. Therefore, the Chancellor’s Cabinet should hear out what the SGA has to say. The SGA is the university’s formal representation of its student body, and they understand the position that students would be put into if this proposal were to go through. The SGA even created an alternative schedule to adjust to everyone’s position to combat any issues that arose with the new schedule whether it is time for preparedness or the impacts of COVID-19.
The SGA and Chancellor’s Cabinet must come to a decision about the start date of the Fall 2020 semester by May 29. A referendum is scheduled to be sent out through email and it will open up on May 25 at 8 a.m. and close on May 26 at 8 p.m. Students, please make sure to participate, and please reach out to your administrators about this issue.