On Monday, Jan. 10, Western Washington University announced that classes would be held online for two weeks in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, specifically the highly contagious variant, omicron. In response to that announcement, Western student Charlotte Clark-Slakey started a petition demanding lower tuition while students are asked to return to online-only learning. As of Jan. 29, Clark-Slakey’s petition has received 2,487 signatures via Change.org.
“I think a lot of people are frustrated with the situation, and I think that was really what made me want to start the petition,” Clark-Slakey said. “I think it’s a good thing that people are heard, and that this is not just something where you talk to your friends and say ‘Oh, this is really frustrating,’ but nothing happens.”
Clark-Slakey’s petition describes the demands of students, including tuition equal to the price students would pay for classes that Western's online school already offers.
“A lot of my classes are really discussion-based, and I know that’s a big thing here at Western for a ton of classes,” Clark-Slakey said. “That doesn’t really happen over Zoom.”
Many students agree with Clark-Slakey’s message and feel that online classes are not worth as much as in-person ones.
“I don’t feel like I get the amount of information I need,” said 4th-year Western student Gracie Johnson. “It depends on the class for sure, but with certain classes, I’m not getting the same amount of information as I would in person.”
The timing of this announcement has also been continually criticized among students who signed Clark-Slakey’s petition, as the announcement hit students' inboxes just 9 hours and 11 minutes before the deadline to receive a refund for winter quarter tuition. The announcement also came after only one day of being back to in-person learning.
“It was a bad decision on their part,” Johnson said. “They should have given us either more time, or they should have just told us at the beginning of the quarter that we’re online for three weeks.”
Though the university has returned to in-person learning as of Jan. 24, some students are still holding out for a partial refund. There have been flyers hung around campus with a link to sign the petition, and the webpage encourages students to contact Western’s administration in hopes that demands will eventually be met.
These hopes are, most likely, unrealistic according to Interim Director of University Communications John Thompson.
“Western's costs for putting a course online aren't less than in-person classes,” he said. “Those costs are actually higher because of the additional infrastructure and equipment needed.”
Thompson explained that in addition to normal operating costs, there are added expenses when the university has to provide both students and instructors with access to software platforms, webcams or any other technology needs.
“When Western goes online it is very different, cost-wise, than schools that run large online classes with pre-recorded lectures that get recycled over and over and have limited facilities to maintain,” Thompson said. “The state government only funds a portion of our fixed operating costs for state-funded activities ⎯ usually about 50% ⎯ with the expectation that the other half is made up through tuition.”
Though student frustration will remain, Western’s fixed costs make it difficult for the faculty to cater to everyone's expectations. If you are interested in learning more about Clark-Slakey’s petition, it can be found here: Change.org petition.
Isabella Loy (she/her) is one of two copy editors for The Front this quarter. She's a fourth-year transfer student majoring in news/ed journalism with a concentration in Religious Studies. She has also worked on publications at her community college and at Western's magazine, Klipsun. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.