SSD Statement on UVic’s decision to shift to online exams
On Sunday evening, December 12th, the University of Victoria (UVic) moved all remaining final exams to online platforms. UVic cited a recent outbreak of 137 COVID-19 cases, fifteen of which are confirmed omicron cases, due to several parties held by UVic students the week prior.
Students were thrown into the midst of the UVic’s reactionary response to the outbreak; notably, Disabled students were uncertain if the last-minute alterations to exams would be made with student academic accommodations in mind, especially as all exams through the Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL) were also cancelled last minute. This ‘unexpected’, last-minute and inadequately supported shift caused significant stress to the Disabled population.
Furthermore, during the most stressful time of the year, no less, the virus outbreak didn’t have to precipitate panic.
This wasn’t exactly unexpected, was it, UVic?
The Society for Students with a Disability (SSD) knows that UVic’s last-minute response this month was not proactive. UVic has been stalling to provide students and professors with appropriate, flexible online/in-person hybrid access to course material, labs, and exams all semester. We’ve been asking for hybrid in-person/online access for nearly eight (8) months now; we’ve engaged local media, UVic Faculty Association and Administration, been invited to ‘consultations’, and even spoken to several MLAs. Thus far, all but the UVic Administration has been amenable to further hybrid in-person/online access to UVic education. As opposed to UVic’s most recent (necessary) immediate response, we’ve seen nothing substantial before this, despite asking and advocating. UVic’s lack of meaningful and proactive action towards in-person/hybrid course (and lab!) access has contributed to a lack of student attendance, academic focus, and the health and well-being of students. Over the months, we’ve heard from numerous students about real-world, detrimental impacts that a full return to in-person classes has magnified. Uvic’s lack of equitable online access to higher education has been causing harm all semester.
Meanwhile, UVic continues to side-step our manageable asks for hybrid in-person/online to course materials.
We’re not asking now; we are demanding equitable access to education.
We require course materials, labs, and examinations for students who are otherwise unable to attend UVic in-person, who self identify as having one or more disability/disabilities, or would be significantly academically impacted if they continue to be forced to unjustly access education in such a rigid and unforgiving manner.
As the late bell hooks said, “to teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (1994). Similarly, Rebecca Gagan, Professor in the Department of English, stated “your education should not be an experience you must survive” (2021).
We want nothing short of in-person/online hybrid access to lectures, labs, and exams.
Furthermore, ALL students should have the option of in-person or online access to education, especially during a global pandemic. The Access4All campaign prioritizes the safety and well-being of every UVic student, including non-Disabled ones. We all use technology these days, which should be considered an accessibility device.
Additionally, returning to campus in January isn’t — and shouldn’t be — the goal for everyone. Students who are immuno-compromised, experience mobility barriers, chronic pain, sensory overload, care for children or dependents, or work in addition to attending school are most heavily impacted by mandatory in-person class/lab/exam attendance. Emphasis on in-person attendance promotes students who are abled, of higher economic status, with no dependents, and those without other barriers to education. As such, and unseen to lofty UVic Administrators, Disabled students are disproportionately impacted by a lack of hybrid in-person/online course access.
Put another way, access to higher education shouldn’t be predicated on one’s capacity to attend in-person.
The Access4All campaign advocates for UVic to implement online attendance options for ALL students, in tandem with the existing in-person education model. Giving students flexibility in their education by including online and in-person attendance options will enable students to excel academically in whatever way is best for them; this could look like attending class in person, online, or both!
We anticipate a hybrid education model to improve equitable education for all UVic students significantly, including but not limited to students with disabilities, international students, students who are care-takers, and students who work alongside their studies.
Lastly, we support what the UVSS has asked of UVic following the latest Covid-19 outbreak. Notably, a hybrid in-person/online educational model maintains flexibility when future outbreaks occur. We interpret a hybrid educational delivery model as a necessary pro-action rather than a concrete plan of action in response to outbreaks.
Links to A4A petition, SSD website, and UVSS statement