Letter: Concerns over Queen’s communications on return to in-person classes

Editorial note: The following is an open letter, which was sent to a number of faculty and staff at Queen’s University, and then submitted by the writer, first-year Queen’s University student, Rylee Fortier-Turner, partially in response to an article about the return to in-person classes at Queen’s and students facing housing issues as a result. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

Victoria Hall, a Queen’s University residence building on campus. Kingstonist file photo.

My name is Rylee Fortier-Turner and I am a first-year student in the faculty of Arts and Science at Queen’s University. I am also currently enrolled in SOCY122 (Introduction to Sociology). On January 1, 2022, Dr. Sachil Singh sent all SOCY122 students an email that reads:

“Tutorials will take place via zoom and in the online tutorial forums. This means that there are no more in-person tutorials in the course this year. Your TA and the Program Associate will email you separately with details about any zoom meetings.”

However, on January 25, 2022, the following message was delivered to students:

“We were just told today that the university wishes for us to stick to the original course outline upon return to campus after February 28. This effectively means that in-person and on-campus activities in this course will resume for Tutorials 17-20 that take place in Weeks 19, 22, 23 and 24… If you do not return to campus after Feb 28, then that is effectively a loss of 4% of the course grade.

I am writing to you today to bring forth some concerns and issues that I have, not only with the decision regarding SOCY122 tutorials, which was not made by Dr. Sachil Singh, but also issues regarding the return to in-person learning, the communication that was involved, residence fees, and decision making.

First of all, I would like to point out issues regarding residence statements. I am a first-year student who used to live on campus in Waldron Tower. However, when I left for Christmas break, I received an email on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, stating that I should avoid coming back to on-campus living, and to move back home until February 28, 2022; the date that classes were tentatively going to go back in person. The email states, “all courses will be taught remotely until February 28th, 2022. A decision on the format for classes on and after that date will be made in early February… [students are] encouraged to remain in their home communities, where possible, until their academic activities transition to in-person delivery.”

With that being said, in a follow-up email on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, residence tenants were also given the following options:

“If and when you do return, additional health measures will be in place… Please complete the Return to Residence form in the Student Residence and Dining Portal by January 4, 2022 to tell us whether or not you will be returning, and if so, when you plan to return, if you know. Here are some further details to help you consider your decision: If you delay your return, you will receive a partial adjustment of residence room and board fees, in the amount of $340 for every week that you aren’t in residence, until Feb 28, 2022. You will receive this as $215/week fee credit, plus $125/week in Flex dollars. These amounts will be processed prior to the winter fee deadline of January 31, 2022, based on the information you provide about your return plans. Should you choose not to return to residence for any portion of the winter term, you may elect to withdraw from residence and you will not be required to pay any winter residence fees. If you select this option, you must remove all belongings from your assigned room and return your keys by January 23, 2022.”

There are many parts of these emails that require dissection. Firstly, by stating that a decision on university-class delivery would be made in February, this implies that Monday, Feb. 28, 2022 was a tentative date. The University never sent any sort of email clarifying that it was official that classes would return to in-person. I only found out when I received two emails; one of which was the one from Dr. Sachil Singh (referred to above), and the other was an email from the Faculty of Arts and Science sent on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022, which included this message:

Image from email sent to students by the Queen’s University Faculty of Arts and Sciences in late January, 2022, confirming that classes are returning to an in-person format – something that had only been communicated as a tentative plan until then, according to first-year student, Rylee Fortier-Turner. Submitted graphic.

A concrete and firm explanation of this decision was never given to students and instead assumed, even though February 28 was always tentative, based on COVID cases and restrictions. Once again, this was implied by the email that stated “all courses will be taught remotely until February 28th, 2022. A decision on the format for classes on and after that date will be made in early February.”

Along with this, students were given the option to opt-out of residence or receive compensation on December 17, 2021. The compensation would consist of “$340 for every week that you aren’t in residence, until Feb. 28, 2022. You will receive this as $215/week fee credit, plus $125/week in Flex dollars.” If one were to do the math of how many weeks of money back that is, that is seven weeks of remote learning (January 10 to February 28, 2022), multiplied by 340 dollars a week. This number comes out to a total of $2,380. After seven weeks of at-home learning, this leaves Queen’s students with five remaining “in-person” weeks not including exams. My residence fee, for example, was $7,452 for the winter semester. If you subtract 2,380 from 7,542, that would mean students (in a single room) are paying $5,162 to live in residence for five weeks. This math does not make sense.

In the scenario that students are required to be on campus for exams, this extends them to a seven-week stay in residence. This is equivalent to the amount of remote learning provided at the beginning of the winter semester. However, it still does not justify students paying $5,000 for (a potential of up to) seven weeks, but are only reimbursed for $2,380. Considering these weeks split even, the residence cost should have been cut right down the middle; a reimbursement of $3,726 for the seven weeks taught remotely (assuming students were not on campus for the whole seven weeks), and $3,726 owed for the second half of the winter semester that will be conducted on-campus.

I will also mention that 875 of those dollars ($125 multiplied by seven weeks) are being returned in Flex-Dollar fees, which is not fair to students and should be returned directly. Many students do not want, nor require, $875 worth of Flex Dollars. Also, should any students choose to not continue at Queen’s next year, those Flex Dollars become wasted since they will not be transferred over to their next year of schooling.

(Editorial note: Since submitted this letter, Fortier-Turner received correspondence from Queen’s University regarding the aforementioned fees, which indicated that “The cost for a single room is $4,536 for the full room and board fee for the new contract period of February 27 to 24 hours following your last exam or April 30, whichever is earlier,” a cost Fortier-Turner feels is still exorbitant.)

My next concern with the choices regarding residence was the decision to give students the option to pull out of residence. When a person is given the option to completely move out of their on-campus living and be fully refunded, this gives the impression that they do not need to be on campus. Why else would the school offer students the option to pull out of residence if we needed to be on campus as of February? The way I saw it, when the school offered full reimbursement and pull out for residency, this was an indirect way of Queen’s insinuating that classes would likely not return in person. Otherwise, it would not make any sense for them to have even made that an option at all. The residency email stated, “If and when you do return, additional health measures will be in place.” With that being said, I made the decision to pull out of residence and dropped my keys off at Victoria Hall’s front desk on January 21, 2022.

To find out yesterday (February 15), that classes were supposedly going back in person on February 28, I am now required to either drive up to school weekly from where I live, which is not close, to attend my classes, or find a place to live for one month and one week. With regards to SOCY122, it is not fair that it was communicated yesterday to students that they were returning to their in-person tutorials. This should have been communicated and made clear prior to the final residence move-out date, which was January 23. Had I known this information five days ago, perhaps I would have decided that it was worth it to stay in residence, since that class would be in person. However, instead, I knew that SOCY122 classes would remain online no matter what, and saw that as one more reason to stay home, as stated in the email I received on January 1.

Students are not only being overcharged for living in residence for only five weeks, but were not involved whatsoever in the communication of decisions. The timelines that were created clearly did not line up with other timelines, such as the final key drop-off date being the 23 and the decision to move tutorials in-person being the 26. The room key drop-off date — which determined whether a student was going to move out of residence or remain for the rest of the semester — should have been scheduled once all on-campus decisions were finalized. Students should not have been forced to make the decision of whether they would stay on campus or not prior to having certainty regarding the plan for the remainder of the semester. The financial anxiety as a result of these circumstances has caused many issues, not only for myself but for other students, as well. I am an independent student who pays all of her own student fees, tuition, etc. out of my own pocket. With that being said, it would not have been a reasonable financial decision for me to pay upwards of $4,500 to live on campus for a month and a week.

However, based on Tuesday’s news, my only options are to drive to Kingston weekly, find an apartment for a month and a week, or suffer the loss of four per cent on my final SOCY122 grade.

Four per cent might not seem like a lot until you realize that it makes a significant impact. I have attached a copy of Queen’s Official Grading Scale that I requested through the registrar:

Copy of the Official Grading Scale from Queen’s University supplied by Rylee Fortier-Turner.

This grading scale shows that four per cent is not only a lot, but can be the difference between one letter grade to the next; From an A to an A+, from a 3.0 to a 3.3, from a fail to a pass. To take second-year courses in Sociology, a student requires at least a C- to be registered, according to Queen’s academic calendar. The difference between a D+ and C- is exactly four per cent. This means, that four per cent could actually be the deciding factor of whether a student can pursue Sociology or not.

These issues require immediate attention. I hope this email makes its way to someone who is capable of creating change and acknowledging the issues presented above. Queen’s University students are already under a lot of anxiety and pressure, and it is issues like these that pile up on top of everything else.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this email. I look forward to hearing back.

Sincerely,

Rylee Fortier-Turner
First-year sociology student at Queen’s University

Editorial note: According to Fortier-Turner, multiple attempts to communicate with Queen’s University about these issues had gone unanswered prior to her writing this letter, which she did receive a few responses to, however, those responses were “passive” and provided little-to-no assistance or direction, she said.


Share your views! Submit a Letter to the Editor or an Op/Ed article to Kingstonist’s Editor-in-Chief Tori Stafford at [email protected].

3 thoughts on “Letter: Concerns over Queen’s communications on return to in-person classes

  • Fantastic letter. Clearly a brilliant student, too brilliant to abuse. So sorry your university is treating you like this. Please take my classes next year! (should you decide to remain loyal to a university that does not reciprocate…)

  • I commend Rylee for speaking up for herself, and her fellow students. Her concerns are shared by students and families not only at Queen’s but across the Province and likely beyond. I am a parent of a student who attends university in Ottawa and took the calculated risk of giving up his residence in Ottawa for the winter semester, based on the ambiguous messages given by his faculty and university.

    It’s a unique position for students to be in, not only having to focus on their academic performances but anticipate the direction that the global pandemic might take and guess at how it might impact on them. If they guess wrong, they’re out of luck, and like Kylee, their careful budgeting is scuppered.

    I was shocked to read Queen’s callous message to students directing them to return to in-class learning as of February 28th, with no alternatives offered. What of the international students who having been studying from their home countries and now are faced with either forfeiting their year and significant financial investment, or moving heaven and earth to get to Kingston and try to find housing for what remains of the semester.

    These are unprecedented times for our students. Let’s show some compassion. Why doesn’t the university look for ways to enable students to salvage this year, both academically and financially.

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