Pro-Student CUNY Questions the Flexibility, Accessibility of Online Initiative

By Akampreet Kaur

DATELINE: CUNY–For some students the months CUNY went virtual were the best of their academic career. Whether they were parents, had disabilities, lived far from campus or worked full-time, many CUNY students found online learning convenient and adaptable to their schedules. 

But with 70% of CUNY classes being in-person this semester, some students are concerned about the state of online learning at CUNY. Earlier this month Pro-Student CUNY hosted its third town hall virtually to discuss the school’s intentions with online learning.

Last month, the City University of New York announced that it would spend $8 million on CUNY Online, an initiative to increase the availability of online and hybrid courses. The goal is to complete the first round of seven to 10 online bachelor’s and master’s degrees by the end of 2022 in order to have the program ready by Spring 2023. By next fall, that number is expected to go up to 13 to 20 new programs. 

Pro-Student CUNY developed to provide input on school policies. “We want to make sure the administrators are making decisions based on how students are feeling,” said Sophia Kieseheuer, co-chair of Pro-Student CUNY. The group has 30 members in its private Facebook group. Fifteen people attended the spring event.

At the town hall, students’ main concern was how their individual schools would benefit from CUNY Online. Questions arose about student culture events being made accessible to online students, including de-stress week before finals. 

Even with online classes, co-chair Kieseheuer, who has autoimmune health problems, wants to make sure students receive accommodations during online courses. 

Many shared concerns about in-person classes, especially with a COVID cases on the rise, though hospitalizations are decreasing. “We should keep our masks on in classrooms,” one student said. While another said, “Why is CUNY allowed to crowd students in one room like at Brooklyn College? No way are students sitting six feet apart, not even three feet apart.” 

An issue that came up repeatedly is flexibility for students. “Pro-Student CUNY is not only fighting for students with medical problems but for students who are returning, living abroad, and parents,” said Jennifer Reyes, vice chair of events of Pro-Student CUNY.

The quality of the content of online courses was also discussed. “We love to see classes go online within a night–but it isn’t realistic. We want the online courses to be quality worthy as in-person classes are,” said Jamie Lerner-Brecher.

Saaif Alam, vice chair of legislative affairs of Pro-Student CUNY and CUNY USS Vice Chair of Disability Affairs, urged students to put pressure on schools’ student government and vice president of student affairs. 

“We are here to help students like ourselves.” stressed Kieseheuer, “and we are here to fight for everyone who needs more accommodations.”