Letter from the Editor: The University Can’t Win

And I’m not talking about basketball.

This editorial reflects the opinions of the author, and not the entire Torch staff. This is not to be confused with “Flames of the Torch,” our weekly staff editorial. 

No matter what decision this University makes about coronavirus, they will not win with the student body. 

As an avid user of Twitter, and the editor of this paper, I definitely keep track of student opinions on what the University does. It helps us decide on what to cover and helps us get quotes, sources and helpful information. A lot of the reactions to St. John’s coronavirus protocol, actually, most of the reactions, are valid. “The University should be more considerate of homeless students.”  “The University didn’t give me enough time to make plans to go home.” “Not everyone has in-home wifi to do their homework.” “The University should pay me back the money I gave them for room and board.”

We’re not alone in those sentiments Harvard students were asked to evacuate by March 15, and Howard University’s commencement was one of the first to be canceled. We’ve seen the backlash.

As for me, I’m lucky. I live in an apartment off-campus, and I also have parents who are willing to fly me home to Florida at a moment’s notice (editor’s note: they absolutely did do this, a few days after this was written). I also have a job that allows me to work remotely. That privilege isn’t lost on me, as my other friends still have to go to their hospital rotations, have no one to pick them up from school or don’t have the money to feed themselves without their campus meal plan. But it isn’t lost on the University either. 

Residence Life had a plan and laid it out before us very clearly. Those with “travel hardship,” they say, can submit an application to be approved to stay, and those who stay can use their dorm and Monty’s as though everything is normal. When asked if there was a limit for approved cases, the University told the Torch that each situation will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Then, after President Trump declared a national state of emergency, they sent those students remaining on campus home. This move was likely due to the fact that they have to send employees, who would feed residents, back home too. Then they offered refunds to all resident students. Online schedules were left to the discretion of each professor, and were enacted quickly. Though some midterms were not rescheduled, many students received homework extensions, and everyone was able to use existing tools like Blackboard that they were already trained to use.

Before I got upset, I had to wonder, “what else do I want from them?” In all honesty, what more can they do here? I want them to do more, but are they capable?

Realistically, the answer is no. St. John’s has seen a decrease in enrollment, but we all know that many who do attend school here have still received partial or full scholarships. The University is not an Ivy League, where there are affluent parents willing to pay every cent of tuition I know that’s not the case for my parents. The University isn’t even hiring anyone, indefinitely, because they can’t afford to pay anyone new. They’ve received an endowment, according to President Conrado Gempesaw, to help students with food insecurity, and Campus Ministry has gone out of its way to help students with any need (not just financial need, but finding ways to direct them to people who can help with whatever they need). The professors have had their entire work schedule turned on its head, having to work from home with families and children – many have multiple jobs to juggle other than teaching. They learned to accommodate thousands of students in a matter of days.

When making this decision to close the dorms and end in-person classes, I can only imagine administrators meeting and watching as New York schools close down one by one. I can imagine their reaction to the change.org petition to close the school, which received several hundred signatures before disappearing from the site. How do you come up with protocol to respond to this while (1) keeping students safe, (2) honoring the time and money they put into the University and (3) allowing them to graduate on time, all while making sure they don’t vilify you on Twitter?

I truly don’t know. I’m not in President Gempesaw’s shoes. And if you know me personally, you know I complain about this school a lot (while taking what time I do have to try and influence change). But I can guess that if we all had to stay on campus this month, our anger and fear would escalate past its current level. No matter what decision the administration makes, they can’t win. They can only do the best they can with the time and resources they have, amidst an approaching pandemic that no one in the United States was prepared for.