Universities in Kansas and Missouri are moving all classes online through the end of the semester to curb the spread of the coronavirus and the illness it causes: COVID-19.
Some, including University of Kansas, Rockhurst University and Kansas City Art Institute, are insisting that all students — with authorized exceptions for international and low-income students — leave campus. Others, including the University of Missouri campuses, were still open to anyone who wants to stay as of Wednesday — though that could change any time. Spring graduation ceremonies seem unlikely.
No one seems happy about it, particularly students who worry that their classes will lose something in the transition to online, or worse, that their instructors won’t be tech-savvy enough to facilitate them.
But most of all, they don’t want to say goodbye to campus life and their friends.
Rob Tarphagan, a freshman jazz studies major at University of Missouri – Kansas City, understands the move is for the greater good, but it still hurts.
“I don’t want to go home,” says Tarphagan, a Park Hills, Mo., native. “I will be here until spring break (which starts after Friday). It’s closer to all the stuff I have to do. And to my friends. It sucks and everyone is just really sad.”
Two of Olivia Michka’s classes at University of Kansas are art classes.
“I have no clue what that’s going to look like online,” says Michka, a freshman majoring in French and fine arts. “I guess I’ll be making work at home but a lot of my materials are in the building that I don’t have access to. And a lot of valuable critique comes from my teachers and other students. I don’t see myself making work that I’m extremely proud of during this time.”
‘I kind of shut down’
As of now, most local universities and colleges don’t have any confirmed cases of the coronavirus, although a woman in her 50s associated with Johnson Community College tested positive for it over the weekend and officials were identifying and alerting people who might have come into contact with her.
Mizzou had a scare when a group of students and faculty members attended a National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting conference in New Orleans two weeks ago where an attendee subsequently tested positive for the virus.
Kaleigh Feldkamp, a senior at Mizzou, received a text from NICAR while working at the Columbia Missourian Tuesday night alerting her to the possible exposure.
“I kind of shut down. I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “We were trying to put out a paper, and basically the newsroom said, ‘We have to put out a story about this.’ It was weird suddenly being the subject of a story. Our editors and professors didn’t know what to do with us. Some told us to go home, others told us to stay and put out the paper.”
Feldkamp, who lives off campus, self-isolated for several days before testing negative for the virus on Monday.
Due to privacy laws, Christian Basi, director of media relations at Mizzou, couldn’t give specific details about others tested, but said there has been a “positive outcome.”
Now, he said, the campus is like a ghost town. University operational staff were instructed to amp up the cleaning and sterilizing of the campus a week ago when classes were suspended. Yes, it’s an arduous task, Basi says.
“But you do it like you’re eating an elephant — one bite at a time.”
Campus businesses and services staffed by students have shuttered.
The university coffee shop where Bennett Durando, a junior majoring in journalism at Mizzou, works closed this week. He doesn’t know when, or if it will reopen in coming weeks, and he doesn’t expect to get paid. The extra money is nice for him, but an absolute necessity for some of his student-coworkers.
“That’s a whole other issue for people who really need and depend on that money,” he says.
Military veterans attending college on the GI Bill could also end up owing tuition money to the school for the remainder of the term if their program isn’t certified for online. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs posted on Facebook that it may continue benefit payments, including the Monthly Housing Allowance but only for up to four weeks during a 12-month period.
A bill to rectify the issue was passed by the U.S. Senate Monday, and is awaiting House approval. In the meantime, veterans should contact their school’s veterans office to find out how they’ll be impacted.
Losing human connection
Then there are the adjustments to moving classes online.
Jill Stribling, sophomore at UMKC, says she registered for all in-classroom courses because she believes that having a connection with her instructors is important. She’s also concerned that one of her professors in particular isn’t tech savvy enough to pull it off.
“She’s great in person,” Stribling says. “But she’s having to learn … the professor in my psychology class had to pull an all-nighter just to learn it.”
Leigh Salzsieder, Chair of the Department of Accountancy at UMKC, wants to reassure students.
He demonstrated an online class for The Beacon by remotely logging onto Zoom video conferencing software, pulling up spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides on screen, just like he would with an overhead projector in the classroom.
He’s been teaching online for two years and has trained other instructors on the software in the past couple of weeks. He thinks 90% of them should be able to master Zoom. And, he added, he’s found that his online students do just as well as those in his classroom. He’s able to see all of them on his screen. It offers him a glimpse into their personal lives (and occasional interruptions by children and pets).
As for all the heartache the changes have wrought, Feldkamp cancelled a trip with friends to Charleston S.C. for spring break next week, but she doesn’t plan on leaving Columbia anytime soon.
“As of right now I don’t want to cut my time with my friends and my time in Columbia shorter than it has to be,” Feldkamp says. “I might not have a chance to see some of these people again.”
Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian is a freelance reporter based in Kansas City.