UM’s response to COVID-19: The good, the bad and the uncertain

As of Friday afternoon, the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Florida has soared to 9,585, with 3,029 of those coming from Miami-Dade County. Much like our federal government, businesses and universities alike have found themselves unable to handle the outbreak, thus putting those who depend on them in distress.

Since UM is one of the top private universities in Florida, a lot of people were watching our administration, waiting to hear how they would handle this unprecedented situation. Our editorial board has some thoughts on UM’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The good:

  1. Our spring break, which was scheduled from March 7 to March 15, was extended by a week. This was a decision most students were happy with as it gave us time to fully recognize the pandemic’s effects and plan how next moves.
  2. In keeping up with the spirit of going digital, President Julio Frenk sent out a series of video messages that addressed concerns about the virus, spring break travel and online classes. He also discussed his experience handling disease outbreaks and explained the university’s focus: student safety. It was reassuring to hear updates and words of encouragement from UM’s leader.
  3. For students affected by the need for unexpected travel and lifestyle adjustments, our administration extended the last day to drop a class with a “W” to April 10. UM leadership advised professors to be lenient and understanding during this time, so for students worry about how their grades will fare during this time, there is hope.
  4. The university announced that it would implement a credit/no credit grading option, which is exactly what we were hoping for. Many other students were also vying for this outcome, with more than 6,000 of them signing a petition that called on administrators to introduce this option. It seems like UM leadership listened to its students and acknowledged the challenges of learning while under threat of a pandemic. Since there’s so much going on in the world and so much upheaval in our lives, it’s understandable that school just can’t be as much of a priority as usual. But, the fact that the credit/no credit system is optional still allows students looking for a GPA boost to earn grades if they wish. So, it’s really the best of both worlds.
  5. President Frenk and other top administrators held a series of virtual town hall meetings March 31 and April 1. These meetings provided a space for UM community members to speak directly with the university’s leadership, voicing their concerns and asking questions. We’re glad that the administration took the time to hear from the people who are affected the most by its decisions. Despite flaws in some aspects of the university’s coronavirus response, it’s clear that the administration cares about its students.

The bad:

  1. Communication about our housing experiences has been subpar at best, with the housing department changing guidelines at the last minute. Initially, students were told that they had until March 25 to retrieve their belongings from the residential colleges, but HRL issued a later announcement restricting students’ ability to re-enter the dorms. Our students shell out thousands of dollars to live in on campus, and though HRL did well with allowing students to stay if necessary, its vague and fluctuating response was confusing. To minimize the spread of the virus, we’re supposed to limit travel, but UM’s housing response no doubt caused many of students to leave their homes out of worry for their belongings on campus. Plus, it was stressful to receive so many conflicting communications.
  2. Communication about refunds on housing, dining plans, and parking passes lacked clarity initially. Though students who have checked out of housing received prorated refunds, students that are still left on campus are left unsure about whether they’ll receive any type of monetary refund.
  3. The cancellation of graduation ceremonies, though necessary, is still a huge bummer. Our graduates, who have worked so hard in their time at the university, won’t get the opportunity to celebrate with their peers and professors until December. Students who can’t attend the ceremony will have the opportunity to have their regalia and diploma shipped to their homes with an $11 fee, of course

The uncertain:

  1. Many of those enrolled in summer study abroad programs are still unsure of what’s to come. Programs during the Summer A session have been canceled, but the fate of later trips is still unknown. It’s probably too early to make a decision on this matter, but nonetheless the wait is leaving students and their families without solid plans for the future.
  2. Not much communication has been sent out about work-study and the students who depend on that income during the semester. It seems most communication was done within departments, without many announcements coming from the administration. The Office of Financial Aid has been largely silent throughout this situation, leaving many students uncertain about how they’ll pay their bills.
  3. We doubt this will actually happen, but it would be nice to receive some kind of tuition refund. UM has not yet spoken on this matter, even though student group chats have been buzzing about it. We understand that this is a strange situation, but we didn’t pay $25,000 this semester for online classes, which, to be frank, are just not as valuable as in-person classes. Plus, we’re not using any of UM’s on-campus facilities or resources, further devaluing our experience. We should pay for what we’re getting, not what we wish we were getting.

Making decisions for thousands of students, employees and families is never easy, especially when facing a pandemic that we are still learning about, and we thank UM’s administrators for their hard work. But as a university that is tasked with emergency management quite frequently, the response from our school should have been better. Moving forward, we urge the university to make decisions that deeply contemplate our students’ financial and emotional needs. Together, we will wrap up the spring semester as best as we can.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.