The Concordian talks to student Juliet Bartlett about her open letter to Concordia’s administration
This past week, Concordia forums have been abuzz in response to an open letter posted online regarding the university’s approach to online schooling during COVID-19. The letter outlines complaints about a wide array of issues such as the lack of a pass/fail option, tuition breaks and support for international students.
The Concordian sat down with the author, third-year Intermedia student Juliet Bartlett, to discuss the letter and her intentions behind it.
TC: Your letter is extensive and very impassioned; what prompted you to write it?
JB: The letter was quite a few months in the making. It wasn’t just something that I typed overnight. It was inspired by months of talking and listening to students either via the [Concordia] subreddit or reading posts on Facebook or my own friends as to what their experiences were. I didn’t just want to write a letter based on what I was experiencing. I wanted to write it with everyone in mind and kind of capsule [sic] the frustration the student body is feeling at the moment.
TC: Concordia has many formal ways to communicate with administration. Why did you feel an open letter was the best format for your message?
JB: Open letters are public, they usually embody something bigger than one person. If changes were to be made, they had to be public and they have to pick up traction. Concordia — I think a lot of students feel this way too — doesn’t make changes unless it is something bigger or that’s been on the slow burner for an extensive period of time. It was really important that it was public knowledge and that it was going past the student body and Concordia to make sure that we aren’t just going to sit and be silent and take this.
TC: You’re in Intermedia. How is Concordia’s approach to an online semester affecting you as a BFA student?
JB: I’ll prelude by saying this: I love my program, the people, the professors. But, as a fine arts student, it’s affecting me specifically because for most of my projects, you need a higher-end computer to run the software you need. Fortunately, I do have a good enough computer to run these programs. It is getting outdated though. Whereas, last year, we had the option to use either the Intermedia editing suite or the Centre for Digital Arts (CDA). There’s a lot of students that I have spoken with that aren’t as fortunate as me. They’re on a laptop that’s almost catching fire while they’re trying to run Blender. And especially for students that aren’t located in Montreal, even if [the department] were to open something, there isn’t really a way to get that equipment to them. So we need to consider fees and we need to consider costs, because tuition wasn’t lowered, we got a $17 discount. The CDA fee was waived, but how can you justify the cost of an $800, plus upgrade to your computer to run the software you need for school?
TC: What would you like CU admin to take away from your letter?
JB: Number one, I hope that they read it in full. I hope it’s not skimmed. I want every word to be considered in my letter. Number two, I want them to know this isn’t out of spite. I wanted them to erase and forget this whole current ideal that’s been spun around by some people saying that students are lazy, students don’t care, they just want a pass and they want to cheat. That is not the point [of] my letter. What we’re trying to say is that it is a rough year. There are more issues than are being assumed going on behind closed doors with students.
The ones who were in university 20, maybe 25 years ago, maybe those employees who just started, remember what it was like when you started university. Remember the stress that you felt. Then, I want you to take away all those memories you had with your friends in first year. Take away all of the social outings you went to. Then, I want you to confine them to one small room with a computer, a webcam, Moodle frequently crashing and a heavier workload. Add a strong tiredness that is 24/7. Then, I want them to imagine that this is what their university tells them is fine.
TC: In the recent CSU by-election, students voted in favour of a pass/fail option, lightening course workload, and turning away from proctored exams, all topics you mention in your letter. Do these results give you hope or do you expect more of the same from the institution?
JB: It doesn’t give me hope in terms of what the administration’s next plans are going to be. It does give me hope and empowers the idea of the letter, and the fact that the student body does agree with that and does want this. I think it’s pretty evident that we have wanted it since the beginning of fall term. I also don’t understand how the administration wouldn’t want to [implement] a pass/fail option. Everyone seems to be struggling — that I have spoken with. Everybody’s GPA is most likely going to take a hit. So, as a university, why wouldn’t you favour pass/fail, rather than having your overall university GPA drop? Because that is most likely what is going to happen.
TC: What would you say to other Concordians who want to have their voices heard on these issues?
JB: I would strongly encourage them to write their own letter. Sit down and really think about the things you have felt this term, these specific things that apply to your faculty and school-wide. Be honest, and write a letter. We all need to unite, both the student body and professors, because this is affecting professors as well. We need to understand that we need to work together to make changes happen. The louder we are, and the more vocal and well-versed we can be in this, the better the outcome.
In response to the concerns laid out in the open letter, Concordia University replied in a statement:
“We understand the difficulties and frustrations that students and everyone are facing during the pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, students’ success and well-being have been priorities for us and we have put in place a series of measures to help them through these difficult times. We have hired more teaching assistants, are loaning IT equipment to students, have extended the winter break, safely opened study spaces in the library or sent at-home kits for some courses, among the many measures taken. The university has also made significant technology investments to support the move to remote course delivery and assistance to faculty and staff, direct financial aid to students as well as online learning supports, increased on-campus health and safety measures, and stepped-up cybersecurity in a context where cyberattacks are proliferating. We will continue to further adjust to the situation and remain committed to the success of our students.
On tuition fees generally, please note that for the vast majority of students, tuition fees are set by the Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur (MES) and are adjusted on a yearly basis. [For Quebec residents and out-of-province Canadian students, the government increased tuition for the 2020-21 academic by 3.1 per cent.]”
phoPo by Christine Beaudoin