Students on campus

This letter to the editor is from Dick Beekman, who is currently serving as Freshman At-Large Senator within UNC Charlotte's Student Government Association. Beekman discusses his concerns for the upcoming proposal of the Fall 2020 semester schedule. 

My name is Dick Beekman. I am currently serving as a Freshman At-Large Senator for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Student Government Association. Before I begin, I want to make clear the views I express are mine alone. I do not speak on behalf of the University or the Student Government Association.

Like most students, I was caught off guard by the approved proposal leaked by Megan Bird of Niner Times that outlined a near-total elimination of scheduled breaks this fall. For those of you who are unaware of the proposal, the school is calling for the elimination of Fall break, Thanksgiving Eve break, and having finals from December 17th-23rd. I have serious concerns about the negative impact this proposal has on student's mental health, their academic success, and the ability to spend time with family.

In a Special Session of the Student Government Association on May 12th, Provost Dr. Joan Lorden explained to members of the Student Government Association the proposal and the rationale behind it. The Provost explained that numerous factors were guiding the school's decision. These included concerns about the projected peak of the COVID-19 virus in the Charlotte area, the ability to give professors time to prepare for fall classes, as well as ensure a traditional, in-person on-boarding process for students.

While admirable, Student Senators raised concerns that the proposed schedule does not provide adequate amounts for breaks, a notion that was dismissed by the Provost. Dr. Lorden argued that the mental benefits of a couple of days of rest are minimal if they exist at all. This belief is in direct contradiction towards numerous scientific studies that suggest otherwise.

Furthermore, the Provost referenced the desire to give professors additional time to plan for a hybrid schedule. Students saw first hand this spring that professors can adapt to changing circumstances quickly. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. However, does an extra few weeks to adjust classes justify the adverse effects of stripping students of their breaks? Moreover, what of the professors, who will now be spending what little time off they have continuously grading? How does that benefit either party in the long term?

When asked about the concerns that the elimination of Thanksgiving Eve break would affect students' ability to spend time with loved ones due to the need to travel on Thanksgiving Day, Dr. Lorden argued that traveling on a holiday is beneficial to students. She discussed congested road conditions on Thanksgiving Eve in support of her position. Let me be clear. In my conversations with students, I have not found a single student who would exchange time with loved ones in the middle of the school semester in exchange for less traffic. Such a suggestion is insensitive to the value that numerous students put on spending time with loved ones.

While I certainly respect the University's desire to preserve a traditional on-boarding experience, as well as protect students from the COVID-19 peak, a solution exists that addresses the concerns regarding the current pandemic as well as better protects all students' success over the semester. This proposal was presented and unanimously ratified by the Student Senate, and is known as Senate Resolution 57.1-6, the Fall Schedule Proposal Act. While not perfect, it is significantly better than the school’s current proposal.

Under my proposal, the school would begin on its expected start date of August 24th and utilize an online format to begin the school year. This would allow the University to fulfill its obligation to protect students from the projected peak of the COVID-19 virus. Furthermore, this start allows for flexibility if the online portion needs to be extended due to changing conditions surrounding the pandemic. When deemed appropriate by public health officials, the University would then transition back to in-person classes. While some will argue that my proposal takes away from the traditional on-boarding experience, I maintain that new students would benefit exponentially more from a traditional school schedule that allows them breaks to rest, spend time with loved ones, and catch up on school work. Starting college is a difficult transition. First-year students have to learn how to handle more intense classes, more independence, and deal with the stress of having to spend time away from loved ones. Let's not make this transition any harder than it has to be.

UNC Charlotte should be developing a plan that prioritizes student success, not the opportunity to listen to the Chancellor give a speech in person. UNC Charlotte developed a solution that will fail. We, the students, have responded with a solution that works. It is now up to the University to show us first hand how much value they place upon the voice of the students.

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