By Max Lorber, Arts and Culture Editor
A petition demanding USM student’s tuition be partially refunded for the Spring Semester has been circulating online this week. Since the petition was created on March 28 over 700 students and family members of students have signed in support. USM and UMaine administration officials have stated they do not intend to refund tuition.
The petition is in response to USM’s mandates that were issued to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on campus. A shift from in-person courses to online courses, restrictive access to campus buildings and resources, and the withdrawal of most students from Gorham campus dorms, have drastically altered the education experience at USM this semester.
Natasha Shacklett, a Studio Arts major and the president of the Society of Student Arts (SoSA), started the petition with fellow SoSA executive board member Ashley Ricker, also a Studio Arts major. They wrote in the petition text that USM students are not getting the education they paid for.
“The classes we are receiving via online means are not quality replications of the education we would have received in person,” Shacklett said when reached by email.
In response to the petition, Director of Public Relations for the UMaine System Dan Demeritt said, “Because we will be delivering the credit hours and high quality instruction our students have paid for, albeit through different modalities, Maine’s public universities will not be processing tuition rebates for the spring semester.”
The petition says that online courses do not “meet the learning modalities of all students”. The petition also says that computers or the internet may not be accessible for all students, and that “online courses cannot replicate experiences of those in the art department who rely on studio spaces.”
Students are still able to go on campus to use the computer labs by appointment only, but students who have vacated the dorms may now not be close enough to use campus resources.
The UMaine System has begun offering 147 “Study-From-Car Wifi Hotspots” throughout Maine to help students who do not have immediate access to wifi. There is no clear plan for students who do not have access to a computer or laptop, and live too far away to use USM computer labs.
The petition text also addresses the needs of Studio Arts majors, “Online classes cannot replicate experiences of those in the art department who rely on studio spaces, techniques, and technical equipment to learn their skills.”
All art and media studios have been closed for the remainder of the semester.
“Think about our ceramicists that require a kiln, our welders, our printmakers. They do not have the means, or proper safety, to have the equipment that we have at the university, that they rely on to fulfill their degrees,” Ricker said.
USM Provost Jeanine Uzzi said she will not support a partial refund of tuition.
“USM faculty and teaching staff are working harder than ever in this new educational environment, not only to ensure that students will be able to meet the learning outcomes of their courses, but that student services will be available as well,” Provost Uzzi said. “USM is still offering the education for which students signed up, albeit in a way no one expected.”
Provost Uzzi also said that any student without computer access or wifi should attempt to contact their professors, advisor or dean to state their specific needs so that they can be accommodated.
Signers of the petition complain that the experience they paid for cannot be replicated online, especially in lab, theater, art and music courses, as well as internships.
“My daughter was doing her internship this semester and that was cancelled. She should be fully reimbursed for her internship and a partial reimbursement for having to go to all online classes,” wrote Melissa Jean in the comment section of the petition.
Kirstie Brown, another petition signer, said “I am not getting the full experience of my degree this semester as a music major, I barely even have a place to practice my instrument for long periods of time anymore.”
Demeritt said that the UMaine System has been working to accommodate students, and to refund them appropriately. He said the UMaine System is investing $1.5 million for new software and licenses for students and faculty. Demeritt also said a total of $2.63 million was refunded on March 31 to USM students who left their dorm.
UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said, “Together we are adjusting to an unforeseen public health emergency to make sure our learners get the credit hours and quality instruction they paid for this semester from all of our universities.”