Richards: The importance of university transparency amidst a pandemic

Jason Richards, Staff Columnist

It was the week before move-in day at Case Western Reserve University when half of the undergraduate population was told they were no longer eligible for living on-campus. Second and third years were told to stay home, save those that are nursing majors, transfer students or  orientation leaders for the incoming first-year students.

Just 18 days later, the fall 2020 semester began on a very barren, socially distant campus.

And just one day after that, CWRU announced that all students—no matter on-campus or off—would be charged the same amount for tuition.  Most living off-campus would save a few hundred dollars through student activity fees, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) bus pass fees and matriculation fees, but all students would still have to pay the same—and most importantly, increased from the previous year—tuition fees for this semester.

Sure, we can applaud CWRU for their transparency in these decisions, but there’s no praise for surprising us with major decisions days before the semester starts, and then, again, just two days into it.

CWRU should continue along the path of transparency through providing updates on their big decisions regarding the health and safety of the campus community, but with more emphasis on communication. CWRU is off to a good start, introducing the new COVID-19 dashboard with weekly updates to testing and results, but I think there are better ways to communicate these pressing concerns to the campus community. 

Releasing notifications more than just a few days in advance, or updating us on decisions that may be in progress or for those that the CWRU community may have a say in, is a start. These would solidify the bond between the administration and the campus community that has been weakened by drastic, unexpected changes to academics, housing and safety.

I also believe it’s important to show the continual efforts being put in to actually care for the students on campus, and provisions being made for the students that aren’t. The new dashboard is a great foundational measure, but it would be beneficial to know the ongoing efforts CWRU administrators are making throughout the school year in adherence to trends in testing and safety.

There is, of course, great unpredictability regarding the current situation, especially from the perspective of a college campus. CWRU students come from all over the world, where the COVID-19 situation varies greatly. CWRU has been doing well in making these big decisions by keeping the community’s safety in perspective—it’s just the communication that falls short.

As an on-campus student, for both educational and safety purposes, we should be updated on the health and safety of the university as updates are made available, not when testing is completed or a major change in living conditions is inbound.

There are plenty of questions left to answer, and we don’t even know if they’ve been given attention yet. Are there ongoing discussions about the spring 2021 semester? Will this process repeat itself if students return for the spring semester? Will there be more changes to tuition or student fees?

The big question: Are we going to keep getting surprised by these last-minute changes, or will we at least be notified before a final decision is made?

These are uncertain times which require transparency at the hub of decision making. If this transparency cannot be upheld, we as a university are taking a big risk amidst an already volatile situation. 

Not to mention, they will be greatly threatening the trust of the campus community.