Earlier this week, amid widespread measures to contain the coronavirus — which the World Health Organization has deemed a pandemic — a UVic senior lab instructor took to Coursespaces to inform students that more than two absences from her class, excused or not, would result in them failing the class.
The message, posted by senior lab instructor Alicia Rippington to Biology 186 students on March 9, reiterated to students the attendance policies outlined in their course syllabus.
“Remember, you cannot miss more than two labs (for an excused reason or not) and still pass Biology 186,” wrote Rippington.
Biology 186 is an introductory-level biology class, with labs taught by Rippington supplementing a 300-student lecture. The class is a necessary prerequisite for many upper level classes, so failing the course would drastically affect a student’s future academic plans.
UVic has no current plans to close campus, although a student petition signed by over 1 300 is urging them to do so. Over 80 universities and colleges in the U.S. have cancelled courses, and all public schools in Ontario are closing for two weeks.
“People are going to feel conflicted and pressured,” said one Biology 186 student who requested anonymity. “She even points out, ‘even if it’s excused,’ so in theory you could miss a class without medical documentation and it might count as being excused, but you could still fail.”
Rippington has not responded to numerous requests for comment from the Martlet.
UVic assembled an academic Response Coordination Team (RCT) in January to monitor the outbreak and implement strategies so that COVID-19 does not disrupt academics. Additionally, an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was formed to plan and respond in coordination with local health officials.
UVic’s webpage on COVID-19, created in conjunction with these response initiatives, contains a frequently asked questions section that outlines the university’s advice for students, faculty, and staff. One of the questions addresses what students should do if they are feeling sick and are unsure if they should attend class.
The site directly advises sick students to stay home, citing recommendations from HealthLink BC.
“The B.C. government asks all British Columbians to stay home and away from others if they or their household members are sick,” the website reads. “As a result of this advice, as well as to reduce the number of students visiting campus Health Services or local walk-in clinics, instructors are asked to waive the medical documentation requirement (i.e. a health care practitioner’s note) for students who are ill for less than two weeks.”
In response to questions from the Martlet regarding the procedure communicated to UVic faculty and staff on attendance in light of the outbreak, the university responded citing UVic President Jamie Cassels’ statement on March 11.
“Faculty members and instructors are expected to follow the recent advice from the BC government, requesting that instructors be asked to waive medical documentation requirements for students who are absent due to illness for durations of less than two weeks,” said the university.
“This guidance was conveyed by the office of the associate vice president of academic planning to deans, associate deans, chairs, and directors, to be shared with faculty members and instructors, on March 4.”
After news of the lab instructor’s message was first reported by the Martlet, Rippington sent out another message around 2:00 p.m. on March 12 to Biology 186 students over Coursespaces highlighting UVic’s advice to students about staying home if they feel sick.
“The attendance requirements for students who are ill will be waived for the remainder of this term,” wrote Rippington. “This means that if you are sick and miss more than two labs, you will still be permitted to complete the course. You will still be responsible for the missed material for the final exam.
Later that evening, at 9:00 p.m., the course instructors including Rippington emailed the students in the class again to inform them that due to a recent announcement from UVic, all classes with over 250 students — including Biology 186 — were canceled for the rest of the semester.
According to UVic, the ARC is currently working to conduct academic continuity planning, form strategies to support alternate course delivery, and support for students whose programs are disrupted by the outbreak. Campus remains open at the time of writing.
Health officials are encouraging people to wash their hands and consider social distancing, and for anyone exhibiting symptoms to stay home. For more information, please visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.
This article was updated on March 13 to include new information on Alicia Rippington’s response.