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IN THE NEWS:

Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Student leaders call for hybrid learning, expanded remote options past Jan. 28

The Disabled Student Union is calling on the university to provide online learning options when UCLA returns to in-person instruction. (Photo illustration by David Rimer/Assistant Photo editor)

By Phoebe Brous

Jan. 12, 2022 2:35 p.m.

Student leaders believe implementing hybrid learning after Jan. 28 will promote educational accessibility and empower students who might be hesitant to return to in-person instruction.

UCLA extended remote instruction through Jan. 28 because of a rise in COVID-19 cases and staffing concerns. However, the university plans to return to in-person learning on Jan. 31.

[Related: UCLA extends online instruction until Jan. 28 amid rising COVID-19 cases]

On Dec. 26, the Disabled Student Union sent a letter to UCLA administrators calling on the university to mandate that professors offer hybrid learning options for all classes after fully online instruction ends. The DSU also called on the university to provide hybrid options during fall quarter, when UCLA held classes in person.

The DSU’s letter said expanding remote options would help ensure the safety of students with disabilities, immunocompromised students, students with dependents, student parents, commuters and students who live with at-risk family members. The letter added that UCLA’s attempt to maintain normalcy is negligent and has potentially forced students to drop out of school, quit their jobs or has left them temporarily or permanently disabled.

The DSU’s letter to university administrators is also a petition calling for universal hybrid learning options. As of publication, more than 2,000 people have signed the petition, including 28 UCLA student organizations, undergraduate students, graduate students and alumni.

Quinn O’Connor, a fourth-year theater student and co-founder of the DSU, said the petition is necessary to address the impacts of the omicron variant and UCLA’s desire to return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. The petition acts as an extension of a DSU-led petition that circulated during fall quarter advocating for hybrid learning and ending in-person attendance mandates. This petition currently has over 28,600 signatures.

Angelina Quint, the Undergraduate Students Association Council Academic Affairs commissioner, said there is an overwhelming need for remote learning options with the increase of COVID-19 cases.

Quint said her office released a campuswide survey during the fall quarter to assess the need for hybrid learning options. Using the survey data, her team compiled student testimonies illustrating some benefits of remote learning, Quint said. The testimonies were included in the DSU’s letter to administration.

However, UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk said UCLA believes students receive a richer education through in-person instruction and discussion. He added that remote learning is not possible in some classes, including some lab and creative arts courses.

Despite being in conversation with the DSU for several months, the administration has refused to implement an official hybrid learning plan, citing academic freedom as the primary reason against mandating faculty to record their classes, Quint said.

Although the UCLA Faculty Code of Conduct does not define academic freedom, the code says faculty have the right to present controversial material and promote free inquiry and the exchange of ideas in their classroom.

Christopher Ikonomou, a third-year communication student and a member of the DSU, said hybrid options are a public health concern, so it is in UCLA’s power to mandate hybrid options.

Katie Bogue, a second-year biochemistry student and member of both the DSU and USAC’s Facilities Commission, said accessibility is more important than academic freedom.

“When academic freedom is infringing on the rights of so many students to receive an accessible education … it is the UCLA administration’s responsibility to implement and enforce policies to restrict academic freedom in favor of access to education,” said DSU’s Dec. 26 letter to university administrators.

Kisliuk said the administration strongly encourages individual faculty to adapt to the needs of their students by recording courses, being flexible with schedules for discussion sections and addressing the needs of individual students.

However, the Academic Senate sent a letter to departments encouraging faculty to record their lectures after the remote period but left recording lectures to the discretion of individual faculty members.

Quint said there is mixed messaging and very little guidance on what hybrid learning methods are possible for professors to use. She added that professors might not be aware of students’ need for recorded lectures.

O’Connor added that UCLA has the infrastructure to implement full hybrid learning and it’s just a matter of educating professors on the technology. They added that the university could increase hybrid learning options by expanding BruinCast and employing program support technicians.

On Jan. 4, representatives from the DSU, USAC Academic Affairs Commission and FAC attended a meeting with the Center for the Advancement of Teaching to discuss delivering workshops to faculty on hybrid learning and accommodations for students with disabilities, according to Quint.

They also discussed launching a joint, collaborative social media campaign with tips on how students can approach their professors for accommodations, Quint said. She added that the AAC office is also drafting email templates that students can use to communicate with their professors.

“We’re hoping that through this campaign … we can help empower students to take agency over their learning,” Quint said.

Jane Ni, the USAC Facilities commissioner, said the DSU, AAC and FAC also plan on partnering with UCLA’s Center for Accessible Education to provide additional support for disabled students by ensuring professors have the resources to adequately grant accommodation requests.

In a meeting with the Undergraduate Council on Jan. 7, Quint said they discussed hybrid options with the Undergraduate Council and called for increased transparency with students and faculty about whether classes will be online.

“It really does become an equity, access and retention issue when students are being forced to attend in-person classes and sacrifice their health and safety for their education,” Quint said.

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