Editorial: Fall 2020 Report Card

Editorial Board

As in previous years, The Observer will wrap up this semester with a report card. Just as many of us are anxiously awaiting our final grades, we should also be considering how our university has performed. Is the administration responsive to our needs? How readily accessible are important resources? How is the student body responding to concerns and how can we all be improving? One of the most critical jobs of The Observer—and all newspapers, for that matter—is holding leadership accountable and educating the public. We seek to do a little bit of both each week. 

This year, we will continue our grading tradition and review the fall semester while also making some suggestions of how Case Western Reserve University could have done better. 

Transition to remote learning C-

We should first acknowledge that the transition from in-person classes to fully remote learning is no easy task. As such, it is likely that most universities across the country would receive poor grades, despite their best efforts. However, the difficulty of the task does not mean we should ignore the inadequacy of the response. Our biggest concern regarding this transition is the lack of understanding, or perhaps respect, from the administration. Many students are taking classes remotely from home, where they are also responsible for helping care for family members and working jobs. While the latter task is often common for on-campus students as well, the former can be tolling but nevertheless critical. Faculty and administrators are either unaware of this reality—as well as the general toll of the pandemic on our health—or do not care. Professors are often overwhelming us with additional coursework to try to compensate for a lack of traditional class time.  

As we transition into another semester of remote learning, professors need to have genuine conversations with their students about expectations and personal circumstances. Moreover, the administration should hold seminars to ensure all professors have adequate Zoom and technology skills—or otherwise hire an assistant to help. Remote learning has made professors and classes that were already poor in-person even more difficult to endure. Reviewing the structure of each class to ensure it can be effectively taught remotely could dramatically improve students’ academic experiences in the spring. 

Addressing social injustices Incomplete

As a powerful entity within University Circle, CWRU has considerable ability to enact change and promote sustainable solutions. We can commend the university for supportive emails following the Black Lives Matter protests, as well as the Days of Dialogue. However, what is more appreciated was the creation of the “For a Better CWRU” student-led task force and subcommittees working on racial, gender and economic inequalities.  

We also would like to commend and support the organizers who have created the Instagram pages shedding light on the experiences of marginalized communities on campus. Notably, @cwru.survivors, @black.at.cwru, @police.at.cwru and @lgbtq.cwru.  

That being said, the university could still drastically improve its response and support for systemic change. However, the promising changes we have seen over the past year have encouraged us to leave this grade incomplete—to be revisited next semester. 

On-campus safety precautions B-

Many students returning to campus did so with great concern about their personal safety and health given COVID-19. CWRU did seem to have promising guidelines in place upon the start of the semester, with one notable exception. While students were mandated to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival to campus, they did not need a negative test to start attending classes. The other guidelines at the start of the semester seemed more promising, though. When a student in a class tested positive, all other students were notified—only out of extreme precaution, as classroom setups ensured one positive result would not expose the rest of the class—and were required to be tested. These students received a phone call from a CWRU staff member reminding them on the day of their test and were told to remain at home until the test results returned.  

However, it seems these guidelines only lasted so long. By the last two weeks of class, when COVID-19 cases and isolation started rapidly increasing, a classmate who tested positive only warranted the suggestion of signing up for a saliva test—no mandate or phone call follow-up. The guidelines were sufficient in theory, but their execution highlighted their inadequacies. Students were spread out during class, but would often be near each other waiting in line for cleaning spray or when exiting the room. When students studied in Kelvin Smith Library, no one ensured proper cleaning of the desks between uses, as was done for seating areas in the Tinkham Veale University Center.  

All these concerns are to say nothing of the experience of students who were put in quarantine or isolation for two weeks. Many of these students experienced worse mental health and felt only marginally supported by the university. 

Communication B- 

For our final evaluation, we are considering how well CWRU communicated issues, concerns and solutions to students spread around the world. While emails have been fairly consistent informing students of changes, we cannot forget the tremendous blunder of waiting until three weeks before the start of the semester to rescind half the student body’s eligibility to live on campus. This email alone may warrant a lower grade. However, we do acknowledge the quality of the emails sent since and we commend the creation of the COVID-19 dashboard to inform students of campus testing data. 

The other communication concern is regarding faculty. Faculty were made aware of major changes either at the same time as students, or only minutes before, even when those changes affected courses. Both the retraction of second and third-year on-campus housing and the more recent shelter-in-place statements are recent examples of how sudden changes were presented to faculty with little to no time or guidance for adjusting their course delivery. 

During spring semester, CWRU should consider streamlining their channels of communication with faculty and students. A system for anyone associated with the university to share their input and experiences would definitely be a welcome development, especially for semesters embroiled in uncertainty.