By Fruma Landa, Editor in Chief
As students began to plan their Spring 2021 course schedule, they were surprised to see face-to-face courses offered. Since not all students plan to be on campus for the Spring 2021 semester, the ability to attend class in-person is now a factor students need to consider while planning their course schedule. In an email sent to the undergraduate student body via email, President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman explained that face-to-face course listings in the Spring 2021 course catalogs will require students and faculty to be on campus and will not accommodate remote students. While face-to-face courses may not cause any inconvenience for students who are able to take courses offered on campus, they can severely impact the courses remote students can register for.
Cases are on the rise in New York and Yeshiva University, and many students don’t feel safe taking face-to-face courses. It is shocking that YU would offer courses that require students to be on campus. Why has YU chosen now to be the time to ease up on the initial remote learning accommodations we utilized during the Spring and Fall 2020 respective semesters? Currently, YU’s NYS Department of Health (DOH) Dashboard records 24 new positive cases between December 5 and December 18, following the 17 cases between November 21 and December 4 with “ … nine students in isolation and 25 in quarantine,” as reported by the YU Observer. Considering the current rise of cases, and the possibility of a rise post winter-break as students return to campus, learning in-person is a risk that many students do not feel prepared to take.
In an effort to accommodate remote students, all Sy Syms School of Business courses which are offered face-to-face are additionally offered online, in another time slot. Regrettably, only a portion of the YC and SCW Spring 2021 face-to-face courses are also offered online. These courses include, but are not limited to, the YC “Intermediate Hebrew I” and the “General Chemistry Lab” as well as the SCW “Bio Principles Lab,” “Cell Biology Lab” and “Principles of Marketing.”
Offering an identical virtual class for in-person classes allows students who are on campus to learn in a classroom setting, something that many students miss, and remote students to learn online, seemingly satisfying both the online and remote students. Alas, in addition to the fact that not every in-person class has an online option, there are also remote students who have scheduling conflicts which could be resolved if the face-to-face courses had an online accommodation. Additionally, if students who are registered for a face-to-face course need to quarantine or isolate, the YU Observer reported that the faculty member and quarantined/isolated student will devise a plan not unlike plans students made when they were sick pre-pandemic. Unlike developing a plan to make up coursework pre-COVID-19, the current 14 day CDC recommended quarantine/isolation period is significantly longer than the few days a student would miss class if they were sick. It is irresponsible to not have the protocol in place to ensure that a quarantined student’s coursework does not suffer due to their inability to attend class.
Not offering a virtual course option for a face-to-face course during a global pandemic is unconscionable. Aside from creating unequal opportunities for students living on campus and students who are not, students may need to take these face-to-face courses to fulfill their major, minor, or general education requirements. Examples of SCW courses only offered face-to-face include “Molecular Biology,” “Analytical Chemistry,” “Biochemistry Lab,” “Essentials of Writing,” and “History of Jerusalem.” Similarly, YC courses only offered face-to-face include “Biochemistry Lab” and “Family & Gender in the Talmud.” “Molecular Biology” is a necessary course to fulfill the SCW molecular and cellular biology major track, “Analytical Chemistry” is a required course for an SCW chemistry major, “Essentials of Writing,” a course described in the catalog as an “introduction to basic writing skills,” is required on an assigned individual basis, and “Biochemistry Lab” is a required course for the YC biochemistry major. Students are now forced to make an impossible decision — to choose between their education and their health. It is not ethical to trap students in a situation where they must choose to either compromise their health by taking an in-person course, or to miss out on the course, sacrifice a major, a minor, or extend their graduation date.
Requiring students to be on campus for various courses is a financial strain not every student can bear. Due to the pandemic, not every student can afford to live on campus or in commuting distance, especially with the recent rise in tuition. It is unethical to structure an educational environment which puts our peers who are not on campus at a disadvantage, particularly when the disadvantage can be removed by accommodating remote learners in all courses. While it is important to have in-person courses for those who can attend, it should not come at the expense of students who cannot live on campus.
The spring course structure appears to only take the needs of on-campus students into account. By requiring on campus attendance for various courses, YU indicates that they do not care about the educational experience, health, and safety, of students who cannot attend class on campus. As a university, YU has an obligation to safely accommodate students during this global pandemic, and sadly, they seem to be prioritizing their on-campus students while ignoring the needs of their remote students.
Photo credit: Haviva Tirschwell