Boston University has not been doing as poor of a job in handling the COVID-19 pandemic as it seems to keep communicating.
Continuous mixed messages from the administration distract from the well-thought-out plans being placed, and instead merely create intense confusion for students.
It started when President Robert Brown announced the transition to remote learning days after most other Boston-area colleges made their decisions. Students were expectant, yet could not act as long as they were kept in the dark.
Still, the University’s decision to offer optional Credit-No-Credit instead of implementing mandatory Pass-Fail allowed students to gain their Hub and degree credits even if they opted out of a letter grade.
Keeping open the opportunity to designate a course Credit or No Credit well after all grades were final on Student Link was a kindness that gave students ample time to decide.
Meanwhile, however, the confusion only continued in other arenas. Bits and pieces of information continued to roll out haphazardly, puzzle pieces of a full picture students were dying to see.
Unclear information, timelines and guidelines on how to retrieve belongings were communicated through a succession of contradictory emails. That’s not an efficient way to advise thousands of students on how to move out of their dormitories — if anything, this communication created chaos, not clarity.
The BU community was left with no choice but to speculate, making decisions based on nothing more than guesswork. Several students, for example, had already purchased plane tickets or driven hours back to Boston to pick up their items by the time the school announced there would be no need to.
Having already caused this kind of strife among students, little of the spotlight shone on what, ultimately, BU had done right for its community: partnering with United Parcel Service to provide free summer storage and shipping was one move that saved students much money and stress.
Still, international students seem largely neglected as a factor in BU’s decision-making. As international shipping was not made available even at a cost, they were instead advised to send their belongings to a domestic address, which is not feasible for everyone.
If there was a reason international shipping was unattainable, BU should have communicated that reason to its students. Otherwise, the University appears simply uncaring.
Even as the school transitions into Learn from Anywhere in the Fall, which supposedly gives all students the option of remote or in-person learning, international students’ needs once more fall under the radar.
While this program is unique and detailed in its attempts to prioritize the health and desires of students, it leaves international students in a complicated position. It seems as if everyone can choose to come and go as they see fit, but that may not be the case for those currently outside of U.S. borders.
BU has already informed one international student she is at jeopardy of losing her F-1 student visa — which would lose her the right to return to the U.S. to study altogether — if she does not return to Boston in the Fall.
In addition to the international community, faculty also seem to be an afterthought of the University. Many have expressed that they are equally as uninformed as students.
Returning to campus could potentially endanger professors, as many are at high-risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms due to age. Yet the University released guidelines that all courses should have a “significant in-person component,” with few exceptions — not having first consulted its instructors.
Going forward, it is clear that this school year will look much different than anything we have experienced prior.
BU announced it will frequently test students and faculty for COVID-19, yet there are too many variables to ensure the spread of the virus can truly be kept at bay. We cannot confirm that each person will properly self-perform the tests, which can lead to false negatives.
Additionally, the effectiveness of proposed housing options will mainly depend on every individual’s desire to adhere to social distancing, which puts pressure on the students who take it seriously.
It’s not feasible to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on such a large campus that fosters social interaction — walking down Commonwealth Avenue, going up elevators, using communal bathrooms.
The entire atmosphere of learning will also be greatly affected if there is to be minimal social interaction in dining halls, study areas and libraries — if such spaces are even open for use.
For some students, the absence of hands-on learning is not worth the risk of returning to campus. But it is clear that the University is committed to bringing its community back and keeping them as safe as possible.
We understand the issues above are layered and difficult to manage perfectly. Despite all the nuances yet to be addressed, BU has certainly attempted to make the situation manageable — even if its efforts were lost in communication.
As questions continue to mount amid the uncertainty surrounding students’ return to campus, BU administration must learn to communicate clearly and be more transparent with all affected. That is how it can ensure a smoother transition into the reality of higher education in a pandemic.