Shadow of Uncertainty Cast Over UM-Flint as COVID-19 Cases Grow in the State

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Courtesy of The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

COVID-19's quick spread and deadly nature is causing panic across the world.

Santiago Ochoa, Managing Editor

As changes within UM-Flint ranging from the gargantuan–like the cancelation of commencement–to the nominal–including the adjustment to parking permit requirements–one thing remains the same; all classes at UM-Flint will continue in a non face-to-face setting. 

The news was first announced on Wednesday, March 11. Since then, faculty, staff and students alike have been scrambling to make sense of the information that’s been drip-fed to them by the university.

Virtually all campus events have been canceled in the two days since the announcement was made. Students living in dorms are being encouraged to move out as soon as possible and seniors have no commencement ceremony to look forward to in April–however, it is tentatively rescheduled for Sunday, Aug. 16. 

Amid all this uncertainty, students are still being asked to prepare for their first online classes on Monday, March 16. Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Keith Moreland, PhD, believes students will be able to continue with their education to a functional capacity.

When it comes to hosting online classes, Moreland believes UM-Flint is prepared. “We’re in decent shape. We offer a relatively high percentage of online courses, we have experience doing this. We’ve actually been doing this on this campus for a long time,” he said. 

Despite UM-Flint’s long history with online learning, some students attending the university are feeling skeptical. Many question the feasibility of a shift to completely online courses. 

The matter of accessibility to the hardware necessary to participate in these classes has been one of the many issues raised by students. Many living in Flint, a city in which only 58% of the population has a subscription to broadband internet service, fear they will not be able to take active part in their classes.

Dean of Students Julie Snyder, PhD, urges students facing these challenges to use on-campus facilities. “The university is still open so students could come to campus and use the resources on campus like the computer labs,” said Snyder “… That’s a way that students could access the technology they might need.”

Beyond this issue, however, there are other problems that students and professors alike may be facing, including the lack of childcare. With the State of Michigan suspending classes for all K-12 schools, many will have to figure out how to attend or teach classes while caring for their children.

Hurdles like possible lack of access to technology and an educationally-appropriate environment raise greater questions regarding the quality of education UM-Flint students will be receiving for the remainder of the winter 2020 semester. But Moreland believes the flexible nature of online classes will allow students to successfully juggle their responsibilities. 

“This campus is full of people … who have other important aspects of their life besides working or being students here and a lot of that is taking care of families and things like that … One appealling aspect of online courses for students is it better enables them to manage other aspects of their lives,” Moreland said. 

For student’s whose life circumstances may not allow them access to a computer or wifi at home, or who do not have the means to make frequent trips to campus, all the university can currently offer is an extended add/drop deadline, Moreland said. Though as of this time, the university’s semester calendar does not reflect this extension, Moreland says it’s being worked on. 

As institutions like UM-Flint continue to adjust to COVID-19’s presence in the state, plans will continue to change. Many universities are currently facing the same or similar challenges.

As the situation continues to unfold, Moreland admits the university’s current operational status is less than optimal. “I think we’re in decent shape,” he said. “Are we at [SIC] perfect shape? Probably not.”