Several student-organized petitions have emerged in the wake of LMU’s announcement to shift classes online and require most students to move off campus in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These petitions outline student concerns and call for the University to take action to address student needs during this transition and in the following months of remote instruction.
One of these petitions, sent out to the LMU community in an email from ASLMU President Ken Cavanaugh, has gained close to 5,000 signatures in the two weeks since it was launched. This petition, titled “LMU, do right by your students,” includes requests for partial tuition reimbursements, partial refunds and clarification surrounding the effects of the University’s pandemic response.
Many of the petition’s signatures are from current students; however, family, friends, alumni and faculty members have signed as well. Spanish professor Alicia Partnoy said she signed the petition because she is sympathetic to students' concerns.
“I’m aware that many of us, the faculty, will not be teaching at the same level we were teaching in the classroom,” Partnoy said. “I have decades of experience of teaching but just two weeks of adjustment to online teaching. I’m not sure students should pay full tuition for our teaching in these times.”
Partnoy, who was involved in student activism herself while she was in college, said she sees value in students advocating for themselves and thinks that petitions are an effective way of doing so.
In an email sent out to the student body, Cavanaugh also emphasized the role student advocacy plays as the University’s response to COVID-19 continues to evolve.
“So far, student advocacy has successfully resulted in the university introducing work-study accommodations for student workers,” said Cavanaugh in the email. “We are hopeful that in coming days and weeks, the university will release statements addressing more of these concerns.”
According to a statement from Dean of Students Terri Mangione last week, student workers will continue to be paid, and “prorated credits or refunds for housing and parking” will be given. Mangione also provided information about the availability of an LMU emergency fund through which students can apply to receive up to $500 to help meet financial needs. Students can apply for this fund by emailing the Dean of Students Office with their request.
In addition to financial concerns, many students have also expressed worry about how the current situation will affect their academic performance and GPA. A petition specifically focused on encouraging the University to allow students to opt in to a pass/fail grading system has garnered over 1,500 signatures in the past week.
Patrick Utz, a senior electrical engineering major and creator of this petition, said he was inspired to start the petition after learning that other schools, including Harvard Law School and Georgetown University, are offering a pass/fail grading option in place of the traditional letter grade system.
“We still want to learn, but because of the added stress that we’re going to have because of the pandemic, having pass/fail grading will reduce the stress of needing to get a higher GPA as opposed to just getting a passing grade,” Utz said. “It will help students focus on learning the overarching material and still be able to focus on whatever other stresses we may have.”
Utz said he is hopeful about the potential of student petitions such as his to help shape the University’s response to COVID-19. However, he also highlighted the importance of ensuring that they reach people who have the capability to take action.
“A petition on its own is pointless if nobody that can change things sees it,” Utz said.
To address this, he said he has been emailing updates on the status of the petition to LMU administrators as it gains signatures.
“That’s why I hope it will actually work out,” Utz said. “I think petitions will be effective so long as the right people see them.”