On Wednesday, less than 12 hours after the University of Dallas moved in-person education online due to an outbreak of coronavirus on campus, a petition began circulating throughout the student body requesting that the university reevaluate its decision to hold classes online.
In response, President Jonathan Sanford and Associate Provost John Norris said they respected the students’ petition and heard their concerns but must consider the good of the whole community in making decisions that pertain to health.
This letter was addressed directly to Sanford. Written and distributed by juniors Max Lagarde and Harry Vetter, the petition expressed students’ frustration with the university’s decision to hold classes online for the next 10 days.
Lagarde explained the decision to write the letter. “I would like to have some say [in] or know what’s going to happen to my education this fall, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than a letter. And maybe a letter from people who felt the same way as I do.”
The petition, which 150 students signed before it was sent to Sanford on Thursday morning, urged the administration to reconsider the suspension of in-person classes. “We believe that UD’s educational mission is best achieved face to face, and not delivered through the specter of technology, no matter how advanced the technology becomes,” the letter read.
Vetter said that part of the goal of the petition was to involve students in the bigger decision-making processes. “I guess it’s our take that you can’t have a successful education without student interaction in the classroom, and I think that also applies to these sort of guiding policies,” he explained.
Lagarde added, “[The petition] wasn’t necessarily to critique or to judge or to rebuke the administration in any way, but I felt that some of the underlying assumptions behind the decisions I just didn’t fundamentally agree with and I wanted to make that heard in a respectful way.”
Vetter explained that they did not present specific policy change proposals, instead they requested that students have a more active role in the decisions made regarding their education.“We’re just trying to search for a better way forward for the university that, I guess, fulfills the mission and meets the needs of students who have chosen to be here in pursuit of the education that UD offers,” he added.
Vetter expressed that he understands the difficult job the administration has in running the university. However, he does not think such difficulty should undermine the university’s identity and purpose. “We do think that there [are] perhaps additional paths forward for the university to take that does preserve that rigorous education that UD is so well known for, while also remaining conscious of the health of the student body,” Vetter said.
In response to the petition, Sanford said, “It was very respectful and well-reasoned, and I actually agree with many of the principles that it articulates.”
Norris said that any petitions would be heard and respected. “As an alum and faculty member, I appreciate that students care so much about learning, and learning in person and learning well,” Norris said.“But we can’t be foolhardy and ignore the outbreak. The burden of wearing a mask is not so great.”
Ale Taliente, senior business major, voiced frustration with the university’s restrictions. “We’ve already tried all these rules, the vaccines, the social distancing, the masks and it’s still going on,” she said. “It’s gotten to the point where if you’re scared of the virus, if you don’t want to get sick, if you don’t want to take the risk of the virus you should be the one to follow the restrictions.”
Norris urged students that UD’s efforts are directed towards their best interest with a view to the entire semester. “It’s clear that [the] outbreak is serious enough to go to the hospital,” he said. “When there are dangers, they need to be confronted.”
Sanford expressed that he wants the community to move forward together. “If we can get the numbers down to a reasonable level, we can all get back to the in-person experience,” Sanford explained. “I’m not simply trying to balance competing voices. What I’m striving to do is what’s best for the in-person experience.”