Hannah Eason, News Editor
Several students said they wanted reimbursement for tuition, housing and other fees during an emergency town hall meeting with university administrators on Thursday, and expressed frustration over what they call a “lack of competency” from the school in reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The meeting, hosted by the organization Student Power at VCU, gave students the opportunity to ask questions and express concerns to university administrators in a Zoom meeting.
About 80 people attended the meeting, which was initially hacked by people using vulgar and racist language and displaying vile imagery through Zoom’s “screen sharing” capabilities. The hacks, referred to as “Zoom bombs,” are a growing problem with the service.
Many students said that they wanted reimbursement for tuition, housing, dining and other fees, such as charges for libraries and gyms, now that classes are online and most campus services are closed. Additional information on reimbursement will be provided by the university on April 9, but administrators said that refunds might only go to students with an account balance of zero.
VCUarts student Sofi Bugge said she and her peers were upset that they would not receive reimbursement for tuition because they no longer have access to necessary facilities. One communication arts student said she was at a “roadblock” when it came to online classes that required software her computer couldn’t handle, such as the Adobe Suite.
“We don’t have any access to studios, critique, woodshop, metal shop, class areas, painting studios, access to many other communities and many more facilities that we’re normally offered,” Bugge said. “So I think that is why a lot of my peers are pretty upset with that.”
Aashir Nasim, vice president for inclusive excellence, said VCU is considering partial credit or tuition reimbursement for the School of the Arts.
Senior Jasmine Faucett said she is unable to do clinicals and internships required for her health, physical education and exercise science major.
“It’s stressful to think that I still have I think two more payments to VCU for my installment plan, and I still have to pay that even though I’m sitting at home,” Faucett said. “And I feel like it’s almost like you’re being played.”
Chuck Klink, senior vice provost for student affairs, said VCU continued to have fixed costs largely related to personnel despite the move to online classes and departure of most on-campus students. Klink said the university is continuing to pay faculty, staff and student workers. Building debt and utilities were also factored into the university’s costs.
More information on the university’s use of tuition and fees can be found here.
Honors College resident Josh Hartt said during the meeting that he felt betrayed when student belongings were removed from the dorm without prior student knowledge. Students were told originally they could retrieve their belongings at an off-campus location in April, but that date has been extended until June because of Gov. Ralph Northam’s statewide stay-at-home order.
“I think this whole situation shows not only a lack of competency in the administration, but a lack of care for the lives of students in this situation,” Hartt said. “I understand we’re all under a lot of pressure. … But they could have informed us.”
Interim Vice President and CEO of VCU Health System Peter Buckley said the university was “performing in a crisis” during the Honors College incident, and said he wanted to apologize personally. Administrators said damages will be paid for any property that was damaged or went missing during the moving process, although it is unclear if VCU or the moving company will foot the bill.
“Clearly this was not the intent or the right way, and I’m not sure how else to say that,” Buckley said. “Just like you, all of us are stretched and stressed, and we do our best and we make mistakes and clearly, we made a mistake around this.”
Certain programs, such as University Counseling Services, are still in the process of transitioning online. Jihad Aziz, interim executive director of health and wellness and director of University Counseling Services, said staff was being trained on how to provide virtual counseling services “legally and ethically.”
VCU is expected to receive $20 million in federal relief funding, which would be dispersed to Pell Grant recipients. It is unclear how much money students will get and when.
Junior Taylor Maloney said funds should be moved from the university’s master plan proposals, such as building a new student commons, to fund reimbursements.
“We’re the ones who are not getting a stimulus check. We’re the ones who don’t have tenured positions and make six-figure salaries,” Maloney said. “We’re the ones who are trying to figure out how to manage a crisis while also getting into the workforce afterwards, which we are very likely heading into a depression over.”
Administrators are expected to answer additional questions on library fees, commencement ceremonies and other topics in the near future, as well as hold another town hall meeting with students.
University updates on the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at covid-19.vcu.edu.