A petition to move the University of Chicago’s hybrid instruction plans to a fully-remote model has gained over 358 signatures as of September 17.
The petition, organized by students in the College on August 30, demands a flexible pass-fail policy for students, course schedule flexibility for international students, financial compensation for work-study jobs and all university staff, waiving of fall quarter late tuition payment fees, closure of all non-essential campus buildings, and mandatory remote course instruction. The University implemented a similar policy during the spring quarter of 2020.
Naa Asheley Ashitey, a fourth-year organizer of the petition, said that rises in new cases of COVID-19 in and near University zip codes could result in unnecessary health and safety dangers for students and members of the Hyde Park community.
There were 1502 cases in the zip codes UChicago is located in, as of September 17. “These neighborhoods are occupied by individuals who are low-income, Black, brown, native or indigenous,” Ashitey said. “We have an obligation to do the right thing not only for our community, but also the communities that we surround. We cannot just only think about our own students, faculty, and staff, we also need to think about where we are occupying.”
“There have been cases where professors have been switching from remote to in-person or vice versa literally within the past couple days. If I were to have that happen, that’s an issue because now I’m [not] only putting myself at risk, but others at risk,” Ashitey said.
Ashitey added that other universities located in large cities, such as Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, have recently reversed reopening decisions due to rises in new infections and have returned to planning for a remote fall quarter.
“A lot of other universities have taken the steps to do the right thing already. Despite the news coming out, UChicago is saying to keep going, but can we? We’re putting people at risk. Between July and August we have two million new cases, and now we’re about to enter flu season.” Ashitey said. “We should make the plan to keep people safe, and that is by going remote.”
Fourth-year Ruthie Catherine, another organizer of the petition, added that benefits of any kind of in-person instruction were outweighed by the risks of such a decision.
“I want everybody to have a good college experience, but it's crazy that we would put this nebulous idea of having a ‘fun senior year’ above the safety of people in Hyde Park. There are a lot of people coming in who are going to have pre-existing conditions,” Catherine said.
The University of Chicago announced its plans for a hybrid instruction model on June 30. Instructors are currently able to choose whether to offer courses in person or remotely. Students must self-quarantine for the first week of classes, and in-person instruction will begin on October 5.
Editor's Note: the author signed this petition prior to writing this article.