Clarity on convocation, online learning offered during Student Virtual Town Hall

Weeks after moving to an online/remote learning model due to COVID-19, York University students were given an opportunity to ask questions about their academic future moving into the Summer and Fall semesters.

Members of York University’s leadership team hosted a Student Virtual Town Hall on April 30 to connect with undergraduate and graduate students, and address their questions and concerns during an hour-long livestream session. The event was hosted by President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton and Vice-Provost Students Lucy Fromowitz, and also included Provost & Vice-President Academic Lisa Philipps, University Registrar Darran Fernandez, York International Executive Director Vinitha Gengatharan, Glendon Campus Interim Principal Ian Roberge, and Dean and Associate Vice-President, Faculty of Graduate Studies, Thomas Loebel. It was moderated by Brendan Schulz, executive director, Student Success.

Lenton began the session by congratulating students on completing the Winter term during an incredibly disruptive time, saying “You all persevered and showed incredible patience with us.”

Rhonda Lenton and Lucy Fromowitz

Rhonda Lenton and Lucy Fromowitz

She and Fromowitz acknowledged students’ concerns about what to expect for the Fall term, and explained the University is working with the provincial and federal governments and Toronto Public Health to determine what the appropriate next steps are.

“You are firmly in the forefront of all of our decision making,” said Fromowitz, adding a thank-you to those students who have participated in the Summer Course survey to highlight current challenges and barriers. “We are working hard to provide supportive and comprehensive services to help you through those challenges.”

Students highlighted concerns with the Summer term, including having difficulty enrolling in courses due to caps on class sizes. Students were assured the University is reviewing how to accommodate the increased demand – whether that means increasing class sizes or introducing additional courses.

Students also has questions about finances, tuition costs and financial restrictions on enrolling for Summer courses. Fromowitz, in addressing tuition, explained that students will continue to have access to a rigorous education online that delivers the full curriculum and enables progress. This, she said, means there is no adjustment to tuition; however, students may see reductions in ancillary fees where applicable.

Fernandez added the Office of the University Registrar will be changing some of the current financial block thresholds to enable students with financial challenges to enroll. He also reminded students that York has emergency bursaries available, and there is government funding available to support students.

International students studying from abroad asked whether the University would accommodate different time zones with respect to exams. Philipps explained that instructors have been encouraged to take that into account. In terms of how exams will be conducted, she said instructors will be investigating different forms of evaluation, and will have robust support from the Teaching Commons for guidance in online/remote instruction and evaluation.

International students also asked about post-graduation work permits, which are allowed if online studying is less than 50 per cent of a course load, and how they may be affected with full-time online/remote learning. Gengatharan said the University has not received direction from the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship on this issue, but expects it will release guidelines shortly. She reminded students that licensed immigration consultants at York University are available to help international students, and are currently taking online appointments.

Students asked several questions about what to expect moving forward and how the University would operate

Questions on the delivery format for Fall were raised by many students.

“We really understand why everyone wants clarity on what’s happening in Fall,” said Lenton. “We are anticipating there will be some lectures and some courses offered online. We recognize there are some programs that require a hands-on component, and we are trying to think of a way to be flexible and have a hybrid model (online and in-person), but there’s an opportunity to still have quite an enriched learning experience.”

Looking at TA-ships in the Fall – which were assured to still be in place – this is an area where a hybrid model could work. TAs could possibly have smaller in-person tutorials; however, that remains to be determined in accordance with pandemic guidelines in the Fall.

Loebel addressed questions about program extension for graduate students, and said the Faculty of Graduate Studies has implemented a provision granting students an extra two months to submit final assignments without financial penalty. If students feel their progress will be stalled over the Summer term, there are existing petitions processes in place for exceptional circumstances.

“If you’ve made the assessment that no meaningful research will happen over the Summer, this may be the time to take a leave of absence … so you can preserve your funding for when you can actually progress, and we’ve removed any cost associated with a leave from one term to three terms,” he added.

Graduating students wanted more information on plans for convocation in Spring and Fall.

Speaking specifically for Glendon convocation, Roberge said students will be invited to join a future ceremony and the school hopes to hold convocation at that campus when possible.

Lenton expanded further to say 2020 graduates would not be overlooked, and the University is working to create a virtual celebration for students who want to celebrate now.

“We do know there are many of you who may want to participate in that, but also may want to walk across the stage, so we are planning on having a larger convocation as soon as we can. As soon as we are clear to have that face-to-face convocation, we will include everyone who should have had the opportunity to cross the stage in June. It will be a huge moment of celebration.”

Details regarding the virtual Spring Convocation will be communicated by mail in coming weeks, she said.

Students were reminded that access to electronic library materials continues to expand, and librarians are available for assistance online.

All information relevant to students, with respect to COVID-19, can be found online at https://coronavirus.info.yorku.ca/category/students/.

“We all know these are unprecedented times, but this (town hall) is incredibly important to us because you are telling us what’s top of mind and what you need information on,” said Fromowitz. “I know you are anxious to get back to campus and so are all of us, but until then, I encourage you to stay connected with each other. As magnificent a campus York is, York is more than a physical space, it’s a community and we are all members of that whether it’s remote or in person.”

Students who submitted questions that were not addressed during the livestream will receive answers through email.

The Student Virtual Town Hall is available for viewing: http://vp.students.yorku.ca/town-hall.

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, deputy editor, YFile

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