The University of New Mexico has had to be flexible and adapt to the impacts COVID-19. UNM asks that students be ready for possible changes during the fall semester — a semester that may have “to pivot rapidly to address changing health conditions in the State of New Mexico.”
I now ask that the students be afforded this same flexibility and accommodation when it comes to our housing contracts.
The continuation of housing cancellation fees is putting an unnecessary burden on UNM students. We had to make housing decisions well before we understood the impact that COVID-19 would have on our education and well before UNM had offered a clear picture as to what a “hybrid system” of learning would look like.
Ever since students were told to pack up and leave campus last March, there has been much speculation about how UNM will function in the fall. On May 22, UNM President Garnett Stokes outlined a tentative, phased reopening approach. This outline explained that the fall semester would function as a “hybrid term.” This outline was offered well after many students had already opted into a housing contract at UNM. For example, priority renewal for on-campus housing was offered last winter to students who already lived on campus.
A clearer understanding of what the hybrid semester would look like was not provided until recently. According to the descriptions now available, most of the classes (around 70%) will be taught entirely online. UNM’s vague messaging on a hybrid fall semester made it necessary for students to sign contracts for on-campus housing. Students had to plan for any eventuality.
Now that it is established that most classes will be online, students should be allowed the option to cancel their housing contract without the additional burden of paying hefty cancellation fees for their dorm rooms or apartments. What is the necessity for many to live on campus if the majority of learning can be done remotely?
According to my own personal UNM housing contract, an enrolled student is already out $300 if they canceled their contract on May 22, when initial information was provided in the original “Bringing Back the Pack” newsletter. Any cancellation after May 15 incurs a fee, according to the UNM housing contract for 2020-2021. If students want to appeal their cancellation fees, they first must sign an agreement stating that they accept responsibility to pay the fees in question. The process to appeal then binds the student to a decision that is out of their control. A student could only plan accordingly with information presented by UNM.
Now that the hybrid system has been better defined, I ask that UNM waive the cancellation fees for 2020-2021 on-campus housing. The students have dealt with UNM’s need to accommodate COVID-19's impact. I only ask that UNM give the same respect and consideration to the students and allow them the ability to pivot and adjust to the best living situation for them, as we all find our way to best navigate these times.
Trevor Nickless is an upcoming junior at the University of New Mexico.