University of Arizona Students Say Finishing Courses Online Is “Expecting Too Much”

An online petition demanding that the University of Arizona end spring classes has garnered more than 8,800 signatures from students.

The university had already announced a delayed start of spring classes and moved as many as possible online out of concern for students’ health. However, the UA online petition objected, “This is not an effective solution in this time of crisis.”

Maritza Almanza, a sophomore studying psychology according to Campus Reform, started the petition, which states:

We, the students of the University of Arizona, need all classes for the Spring 2020 semester to be cancelled by Saturday, March 21st. We need an optional pass/fail system* implemented for all Spring 2020 classes, and for every student to be given a passing grade for every class.... Although online classes help slow the spread of the virus, they still require intellectual and sometimes emotional labor. This labor should not be the focus of students right now. They should be self-isolating and focusing on their health, so they don’t get the virus. It’s unreasonable to expect students to still be productive in a time of crisis.... Students should be planning how to survive the virus and quarantine themselves, not how they’re going to pass their classes.

The petition was updated because not every student wanted a pass/fail grade. Still, it concluded on a defiant note:

We need all classes to end, all students to pass, and all students to be reimbursed. Willfully,

The Students of the University of Arizona

Perhaps this kind of petition isn’t surprising in the entitlement era of “free” college for all. But it’s a real missed opportunity to advocate for postsecondary reforms that would outlive the COVID-19 outbreak—including moving more courses online, which could help make college courses more affordable and accessible for a greater number of undergraduates.

There are several other sensible reforms as well.

Independent Institute Senior Fellow Richard Vedder, author of Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America, recently argued that higher education’s high fixed costs could spell “academic Armageddon” for many universities coping with the COVID-19 outbreak:

A large number of employees have legally enforceable lifetime employment contracts. A campus Edifice Complex and over-exuberant expectations of growth have led to significant indebtedness at some schools.... The residential schools are perhaps hardest hit. They run massive food and lodging operations in addition to delivering educational services.

While many postsecondary institutions struggle with innovation and change, Vedder rightly notes:

Yet, remember, this is America, for heaven sakes! We excel in conquering adversity.... How did universities survive World War II? Enrollments dropped dramatically nationally. Universities downsized, and used their facilities to aid and train soldiers. That lasted for years. Presumably this current health threat will be shorter-lived.... Old ways can change...online replacement of class instruction is obvious, but ... go further. For example, have residential universities sell dorms, pay off related indebtedness, use surplus cash to get through the current crisis, but be barred from getting back into a business they don’t belong in, namely housing students.

Vicki E. Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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