Two weeks before online schedule deadline, we still need specifics

Photo illustration by Emileé Edwards

Last week, Baylor opened up its online schedule request form for the spring semester, but as we approach the third semester of life in a pandemic, some questions remain unanswered.

In an Oct. 8 email, Provost Nancy Brickhouse said the university will “continue to offer online class options for those who have health concerns or live with someone who has health concerns, such as being immunocompromised, which put them in an at-risk category for COVID-19.”

It’s great that Baylor is trying to prioritize the health of its at-risk population, but whether or not they’ll effectively deliver is up in the air. About 1,400 students requested fully-online schedules for the fall, and while the university says it was able to accommodate most of the requests, it’s hard to ignore anecdotal evidence. Everyone on this editorial board knows at-risk students who weren’t able to take an all online-schedule this fall. Will Baylor be more accommodating in the spring?

Allowing students who aren’t at risk or don’t have at-risk close contacts to once again apply for an online schedule is a good move. It is, however, disheartening to hear there is even less of a guarantee that these students will be approved. Dr. Wesley Null, vice provost for undergraduate education, said students living in McLennan County will not receive an all-online schedule “if they are not immunocompromised.” Other universities like Harvard and Michigan State have gone fully online for everyone and made it work. Accommodating the students who still don’t feel safe on campus shouldn’t be this much of a struggle.

Asking students to commit to a decision by Oct. 30 when spring classes don’t start until Jan. 19 leaves a lot time for the pandemic to evolve. In that (almost) three-month span, COVID-19 could be mostly under control, or it could be worse than ever.

It’s understandable that Baylor wants all requests in before students register for spring classes, but if there’s still no guarantee that students who want or need all-online schedules will get them, why is the date to request one so far in advance?

We already saw early this semester how quickly case numbers at Baylor can spike and recede. The 21 days between when requests were due in the fall and the first day of class meant students had to make their decision based on information that would be three weeks out of date by the time they were asked to sit in a classroom. Now that period will be four times as long.

Housing is another area where communication from the university has been murky. The Spring 2021 Online Schedule Request FAQs page says at-risk students may be exempt from the on-campus housing requirement, and students not at risk can choose to “defer their on-campus housing requirement to the 2021-2022 academic year.”

Specific information is hard to come by in the wild. What happens if a student lived in a dorm for the fall, but is approved for an online schedule in the spring? Are students who live in apartments off campus counted as residing in McLennan County, or is that determined by their home address? Even the fact that Baylor would deny McLennan County residents all-online schedules unless they were at risk has thus far only been published in The Lariat.

Baylor’s COVID-19 response has proved us wrong before. The university is entirely capable of getting this right, but with the deadline barely more than two weeks away, there are still a lot of blanks that need to be filled in for students to make informed decisions about their plans for the spring.