By: Jake MacCallum
So I tuned into UPEISU’s recent council meeting (uploaded to YouTube on January 21st) to see what all the fuss was about the impeachment of now ex-president Riley Mackay. Alas, in the pretend oval office, the Life of Riley didn’t pan out exactly as the ole saying goes. Yet surprisingly, the oddly placid nature of the motion to impeach Riley made his send-off probably the least exciting thing in the entire meeting. No sooner did Riley cough up a stilted blandishment of an apology than did the council coldly vote for his removal, to which he then incredulously muttered the final word of the 3-hour-and-44-minute-long meeting— “Ouch.” What really struck a nerve with me though, court-like drama aside was an apparently innocuous student-opinion survey review delivered by VP Anagha Muralidharan. The survey was sent out last week and polled students’ views on the all-important online versus in-person debate, with specific consideration to the uncertainty around the delivery of this winter’s semester. Yes, it was these survey results and the subsequent deliberation between the council and student senate members, not Riley’s lackluster impeachment, which prompted my faith in UPEISU to plunge into fresh mires of sacrilege.
A whopping 68 percent of students chose online learning as their preferred method of course delivery. The survey also allowed for each respondent to accompany their question responses with an anonymous comment briefly explaining their stance on the matter. Out of the 2119 respondents, 1236 did so, and the comments spanned concerns about rising cases, immunocompromised family members, and the difficulties in switching between methods. Anagha, however, was quick to downplay the comments of those in favour of in-person classes as brash and even slanderous yet was brazen enough herself to handpick a comment from a student citing eugenics and ableism as support for online learning. That’s right, out of over 1200 comments, this was apparently the best one to represent the views of UPEI students: “The narrative that in-person is safe because we can’t disrupt our lives and everyone’s likely to get omicron is inherently ableist, quite frankly rooted in eugenics, and doesn’t consider how many students have conditions that make them high-risk that they may not want to disclose.”
Is this person just out to lunch? If so, I sure lack the stomach to dine at the same restaurant. I won’t even attempt to grasp a term as elusive as “ableism” or meddle with such mistreatment of the word “eugenics”—I think the radical misuse in both instances speaks for itself. I will, however, bring into question the reality of conditions that lead to being at high risk for COVID and are also better left undisclosed. Accordingly, Health Canada states “The known underlying health conditions that put one at greater risk for COVID-19 includes diabetes, hypertension, asthma, chronic lung disease, severe heart conditions, chronic kidney disease, obesity or a weakened immune system.” Last I checked all these conditions come shame-free or impossible to hide. What then should be done to accommodate? Do we add “None of your business!” as an option on doctor’s office forms? But this comment, perverse as it may be, does run in seamless accord with UPEI’s latest standard of wokeness. So, on second thought, excellent selection, Anagha.
What is more shocking yet is that this comment—loaded with a term as incendiary as eugenics and an ideological neologism as ludicrous as ableism—sat eerily at the bottom of Anagha’s shared screen for a solid five minutes and failed to garner a lick of conversation from the council. Nobody had the cajones to venture into this uncharted territory, and who can blame them?
Despite all this, I must sing Anagha’s praises with respect to her push to establish UPEISU’s stance on the debate between in-person and online, to which the senate replied with the cowardly suggestion to remain neutral, to passively reflect the wants of the student body. Alas, there is scant time to be passive. It is time to do your job and decide forthrightly, using your own meritocratic minds, what is best for your students. You give short-sighted 19 year-olds the option and they will choose the path of least resistance every time. Right now, our students, like opportunistic children, are in need of guidance. And no matter how much whining and initial fear it produces, it’s time for Daddy to remove the training wheels.
The level of naivete on the part of the council and student senate is staggering to the point of buying everything the student body is selling. Did it ever cross their minds that maybe, just maybe, these health concerns are a front for milking easy grades? Yes, despite the university’s vain attempts at deterring cheating via self-declaration forms, virtually everybody cheats. But isn’t it just dandy to see how many are willing to camouflage cheating their way through university with concerns of eugenics?
We have become drunk off the fruits of comfort, blind to the pernicious effects of hiding behind a computer screen. Sure, you may walk away from university with stellar grades, having Quizlet-ed your way through a degree, but where are your actual skills? Your ability to defend an idea to a group of people? To critically read material and form an opinion? There will be a rude awakening at some point, and if you ask me, it’s better to happen sooner, at the expense of UPEISU’s pride, than later, at the expense of somebody’s job. So, UPEISU, make the right decision and forget for a moment about trying to please everybody. And for those of you inclined to read the Bible, forgive the 68%, for they know not what they do.
The slack I must cut with UPEISU: this is a terrible time to be a politician. You’re constantly jammed between a rock and a hard place of lose-lose scenarios. There is no unilateral response to the COVID situation, and I wouldn’t want to be sitting in your chair. In spite of this, what if you treated the obstacle as the way forward? Seized the opportunity to make a bold move, to stand up for what YOU as elected officials truly believed in? I suppose that is tough for anyone to do when considering the frigidly tense, painfully diplomatic feel of the council meeting—no one was willing to speak their mind; everyone tiptoeing over eggshells, so concerned with saying the “right thing” that simply providing an honest opinion was hardly a consideration. Was this because the impeachment of Riley was the elephant in the room? Or because the council and student members of the senate are paralyzed by a fear of saying something out of line, something that might cause to crumble the ever-delicate walls of groupthink?
The recent decision by UPEI to extend online delivery of courses to February 27th is at best a questionable one, steeped, no, not in eugenics, but in the equally capable tea kettles of pompous politicos. Holland College and public schools return to in-person classes next week.
Are UPEI students at any greater risk? What exactly is the rationale here? The fact remains that Omicron is ample cause for concern, but when weighed against perpetuating a two-year drought of improper education, I’ll take my ableist chances.
Wake up UPEISU. Smell the coffee. Stand up for what you know deep down is best for your students. Show the UPEI senate that you will not cater to every whim and fancy of tubthumping ideologues among the student body. Make a principled stance to bring back in-person learning, not in the name of ableist eugenics, but in the continuation of something UPEI has always stood for—FIDES SCIENTIA BENEFICIUM (Faith, Knowledge, Service)—so that maybe one day, we can all live the true Life of Riley.