Academic accommodations necessary to balance inequalities at home
Other universities gave students very little time to move out, mandated that all students leave campus no matter their home situation or gave their students very little information. In light of this, we want to commend the administration, faculty and staff for doing the best they can in constantly changing circumstances. Communication about the crisis began early and stayed up to date. For the most part, professors have been working hard to transfer the rest of the semester to an online format and have been empathetic to student concerns with the restructuring of classes. President David Leebron and Dean of Undergraduates Bridget Gorman were also quick to offer partial refunds for room and board and other fees, a step that many universities have yet to take.
Nevertheless, there are more loose ends we want to address. In light of the difficulties involved with moving off campus and completing the rest of the semester online, we urge the Faculty Senate to approve academic accommodations at their meeting tomorrow. Existing inequalities in the student body are exacerbated by moving off campus. Students face problems including lack of internet or computer access, insecure food or housing or unstable living situations that make completing work difficult if not impossible. Logistical issues such as time differences also pose practical challenges to academic performance, especially for international students who might be expected to wake up for synchronous classes. And because this is an emerging pandemic, not a resolved one, students might find themselves suddenly caring for loved ones who are sick or need help. As a whole, students and professors are all living with fear and uncertainty, conditions that are not conducive to productive academic learning in the first place.
The proposal to allow students to designate any of their courses pass/fail for credit toward requirements and without penalty would alleviate some of these concerns and make it easier for students to focus on their wellbeing. Extending the drop and pass/fail deadline would also give students some flexibility to deal with any academic or personal issues as they arise. Students should not have to sacrifice their wellbeing for their grades, and the proposal for academic accommodations would reduce the pressures caused by classes or home life.
For the future, we encourage the administration to explore additional options to support students. Academic accommodations, room and board refunds and payments for work-study students are more pressing and should be addressed urgently. But, we think tuition refunds could be considered in a transparent manner after these issues are addressed. Obviously, despite the best efforts of our professors, online education is not the same quality of the classes that would be taken on campus, in particular for specialized programs like architecture and music programs. Given that many students take out debt to attend Rice, and that many students’ and their parents’ incomes may be or are already affected by this crisis, a tuition refund would go a long way in acknowledging the special circumstances of this semester.
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Before you attend a counseling session at the Rice counseling center, you will be told that “the RCC maintains strict standards regarding privacy.” You will find statements from the university that your mental health record will not be shared with anyone outside of extreme situations of imminent harm, and only then that your information will be shared with only the necessary officials. This sounds great, except that these assurances bear no teeth whatsoever — no enforcement agency ensures that Rice follows its public confidentiality promises, and there are no penalties for Rice if they break them. The Wellbeing and Counseling Centers should more directly communicate the limits of their confidentiality policies when compared to unaffiliated counseling centers, and students in sensitive situations should take the necessary precautions to protect their information.
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In January, the Rice Board of Trustees announced plans to move the Founder’s memorial to another area of the academic quad as part of a whole redesign, adding additional context of his “entanglement” with slavery. This comes despite continual calls from the student body to not have the enslaver displayed in the quad regardless of the context provided. It would be just for these calls to action and the majority of the Task Force Committee who voted to not keep it there that the Board of Trustees decide to not keep the memorial prominently displayed in the quad at all.