UBC Okanagan students criticize UBC's 'patchwork approach' to COVID-19 in the Interior

Students at UBC Okanagan are criticizing UBC’s “patchwork” approach to moving classes online for the 2021/22 academic year.

Up until September 13, BC had COVID-19 restrictions specific to the Interior Health region in which UBC Okanagan is located due to worsening COVID-19 case counts in that area. Among these restrictions were a 50-person limit on indoor personal gatherings — including club events — and a 100-person limit on indoors organized gatherings, including lectures.

Just yesterday, the province lifted some restrictions in areas where the BC Vaccine Card is being used. As of writing, UBC Okanagan has not yet appeared to inform students how this will impact classes.

In response to the original restrictions that continued through the start of classes, some UBC Okanagan classes were recommended to move online — but the decision on whether the classes would be online or not wasn’t centrally decided.

Speaking on behalf of the Students' Union Okanagan of UBC (SUO), Director-at-Large Kai Rogers stated that so far, UBC Okanagan has deferred the responsibilities to each individual faculty. In some cases, faculties further pushed the responsibility onto the professors.

“It’s different from faculty to faculty, it's different from class to class,'' Rogers said, referencing a recent email sent out to students in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences where professors were recommended to move classes online until October 15.

“Even if students wanted 100 per cent online or 100 per cent in person, the rollout and implementation that UBC Okanagan has done is frankly disrespectful for students. This patchwork approach benefits nobody.”

While the SUO said it was sympathetic over the fact that provincial health orders can change at a moment's notice, the lack of communication and a general direction or guiding principles has left much to be desired, Rogers said.

“Even if you give UBC the benefit of the doubt; that this announcement caught them off guard ... How does that account for the patchwork approach of faculties letting professors decide on their own, or some faculties moving their programs entirely online? This does not excuse the fact that there is no unified approach,” Rogers said.

On August 30, UBC Okanagan published a news release where it explained its current situation offering classes amidst the Interior Health regional orders.

While the news release listed a number of support mechanisms such as the UBC Technology Bursary and a one-time financial support, it still reaffirmed its case-by-case approach to moving classes online.

“Faculties and courses will be examining their specific circumstances on a case-by-case basis and will continue to do so . . . They will take many considerations into account, including student and faculty health accommodations, student travel, lecture size, course content, and student experience, among many others. Any changes will be communicated to affected students directly,” it reads.

However, Rogers still emphasized the need for better communication — especially as now, some students have signed leases in Kelowna only to discover a significant portion or all of their classes are online.

“I find it very disrespectful to students that pay thousands of dollars and expect to have a well-run university — and this is what we’re getting after a year and a half of online school ... I think UBC owes students on both campuses an apology.”