The lack of communication between Stony Brook University administration and students is alarming.
Word is spreading on campus that classes are moving online after spring break. There are several leaked emails, departments have posted on social media and professors are explaining to students what may happen next.
Yet even in the face of all this, the university’s administration still has not sent students an email officially announcing the change, nor any information keeping them in the loop about their plans.
Students and faculty alike are confused about what’s happening. This silence from the university is deafening at a time when students are looking for clarity.
Many faculty are saying that their departments are having meetings to discuss the shift to online classes, but few are willing to go on the record in the absence of an official announcement. Students, whose lives could be upended by these decisions, are left depending on leaked emails and hearsay.
Rumors about the transition to online-based classes started circulating around campus on Monday morning. Screenshots of emails backing those rumors up, allegedly from several Stony Brook professors, teaching assistants and administrators, were posted on the “SBU” subreddit.
The official Instagram account for SBU’s School of Social Welfare put out a statement Monday night to reassure students that there are no cases of COVID-19 on campus but simultaneously confirmed that all classes would be conducted online starting March 23.
Professors are still figuring out how they’ll run virtual classes, while students are left scrambling to potentially prepare alternative living situations — something the university has yet to address.
Campus Residences briefly posted a notice on the Stony Brook Housing Portal stating that “moving out early is a personal choice,” and that students would be financially responsible for the entire Spring 2020 semester. The notice also informed students that they cannot host off-campus guests. The post was taken down hours later.
When The Statesman asked the administration whether classes will be held online until the end of the semester, what the plan is for student residents, how billing will be affected and how the change will impact international students, officials commented: “No official decision has been made. If anything should change we will let you know as soon as possible.” That has consistently been their response whenever a request for comment was made.
An FAQ addressing student questions was posted under the Coronavirus Information webpage for a few moments on March 10 around 5:30 p.m. before coming down. In response to one of the questions, which asked whether classes would be cancelled, the university explained that classes will “move to remote instruction” beginning March 23.
“Classes will be held through the end of the semester to ensure academic continuity, and all classes and finals will meet remotely except for experiential learning that will continue as it currently exists for students in the Health Sciences (clerkships, placements, etc.) and for some other special circumstances,” the post explained. Classes will otherwise be held as scheduled.
Another response explained that resident students can continue to live in the residence halls, and “will be provided all services as usual,” though students can choose to return home. Campus offices will stay open.
While there is no denying that this transition is a logistical nightmare, other university administrations are still communicating quickly and clearly.
Ohio State University (OSU) sent an email to more than 60,000 OSU students stating that it would immediately suspend face-to-face instruction until at least the end of March. The decision came within hours of Gov. Mike DeWine’s declaration of a state of emergency and the confirmation of three patients with COVID-19 in the state.
After the administration at SUNY Geneseo heard that students were spreading rumors about what will happen for classes and activities on campus, the Dean of Students sent an email that addressed concerns and provided an update on campus operations — classes and activities on campus will continue as scheduled. Students going home for spring break were warned to take extra clothes and supplies in case their return is delayed.
Where is the communication from Stony Brook University?
Walk down the dimly-lit hallways of Melville Library or the crowded walkways of the Academic Mall, and you are bound to hear different versions of the same story. Some students are ecstatic about the possibility of having classes online; others are worried about their safety. And who can forget about this semester’s graduating class, who are concerned about how their last few months at SBU will pan out?
The lack of communication is unfair to SBU’s faculty and students. Addressing rumors and informing the campus community about what the administration is planning is better than keeping everyone in the dark. The school needs to make it a priority to answer questions about what is being done to protect our health and secure our education.