On-Campus Only Summer Limits Student Flexibility

At the beginning of March, students who enrolled in the upcoming summer semester received an email from the Academic Advising Resource Center and the Office of the Registrar stating that, while students may choose from courses that are in-person, remote, or hybrid, “a fully remote enrollment option is not available for the summer term.” For the entirety of the 2020-21 school year thus far, students were able to enroll remotely. Now, that option has been taken away.

This Editorial Board writes in opposition to the decision to mandate that all students live on campus this summer. Oberlin has weathered an extremely difficult year, characterized both by choices we approved of and choices we did not. Many exceptions and changes to usual College rules have given students a lot of grace — students could declare Pass/No Entry at any point in the semester, for example. In taking the choice to study remotely away, options for second-and third-years are heavily limited just two months before the summer semester’s start date. Students in these classes, particularly third-years, were already most impacted and inconvenienced by the unusual three-semester schedule. Now, in the same academic year as a life-altering pandemic, the College has opted to eliminate this modicum of student choice where it pertains to the students most uprooted by COVID-19 plans. 

Given new state regulations in Ohio and the latest federal guidance, most students returning to campus can expect to be vaccinated. However, the impacts of this year don’t vanish post-vaccination. Students may need or wish to study remotely for a variety of reasons. They may need to take jobs in their hometowns or may have planned to navigate internships in addition to their course load, given the opportunity that the summer after one’s third year often provides for meaningful career opportunities. Students may need to support family members, in bereavement, illness, or financial strain. In anticipation of ObieSafe restrictions, students may simply want the option to spend this time wherever they choose. Regardless of the scenario at play, these students deserve the same grace their classmates were given in the fall and spring semesters — and they certainly deserved to know this restrictive score in advance of the need for a critical academic decision. 

In apparent anticipation of the difficulty that this would cause, links to apply for a personal leave of absence were included in the email. The implication is evident — if this decision disrupts your plans for the semester, you are welcome to come back later and delay your graduation date. 

It’s important that we emphasize again that remote classes will still be available, although the College expects to limit them. We cannot reasonably expect the pandemic’s dangers to be gone by May — a full return to in-person classes still seems a bit optimistic. As such, if professors will still be given the option to teach remotely, remote learning and living should be an option for students who need it. 

The College has stated that it will make allowances for international students who can’t return to campus because of visa and travel restrictions, and will try to arrange remote-accessible courses. It would be prudent to extend this opportunity to all students. At this point, faculty have the technology and the know-how to make courses remote-accessible. A majority of the classes can be in-person while still allowing for remote students to participate in the summer semester. We all know that remote pedagogy and learning are not preferable to an in-person experience, but it’s an accommodation the College should offer for students who weigh the pros and cons and decide that returning to campus isn’t what is best for them. 

The decision to mandate in-person summer enrollment may in part be a financial one. Having incurred major losses due to necessary COVID-19 restrictions, it makes sense that the College wants those room and board dollars. Given that only College second and third-years will enroll, all will presumably live on campus and pay the hefty sticker price to do so. However, this mandate ignores that some students may hope to stay remote to avoid incurring further financial strain in an incredibly difficult time. By removing choice in the matter, the College disregards student financial burdens.

We understand that this decision on the part of the College is also certainly motivated by a desire to return to normalcy. It’s a desire we all share. But the decision to be in-person during a year with so many setbacks, difficulties, and unprecedented characteristics of all kinds is going to be a complicated one, vaccine or no vaccine. As such, the choice to attend school in-person this summer, or not, should remain with individual students. Oberlin is still home to many of us — the students who can be here will choose to.