Today was scheduled to be the first day of classes for the University of Belize. Things were delayed, however, as before the start of the first class at eight o’clock this morning Murphy’s Law kicked in and it all went haywire. Love News understands that the online platform for UB had crashed due to the high volume of traffic on the Moodle site. This made it impossible for classes to get started. Just last week the university’s faculty and staff union had written to the administration requesting the reopening be delayed until September 7 as they believe that the online system and procedures were not fully ready for today. The union had also requested that negotiations be held with the Board of Trustees on various issues. According to a letter from the Union Representative, Dr June Young, the reason UB’s Board rejected the postponement of the reopening date stating that the delay would reflect poorly on the Board’s ability to manage the institution and it may result in students wanting to leave UB and consequently a potential loss in revenues. The Board reportedly acknowledged the need for more time to prepare but instead, they implored that faculty engage with students even if only for orientation sessions. Over the weekend the General Secretary of the Union, Dr Christopher De Shield, issued a video statement in which he announced that the Faculty members will not resume formal teaching until the various issues they have are worked out. Today, the Union further clarified their position via a Zoom conference with the media. Timothy Dami, who is on the Union’s Negotiations Committee, stated the issues that they have had with online classes via Moodle, while De Shield explained the teachers’ struggles.
Timothy Dami, Faculty of Science & Technology, University of Belize Toledo Campus: “The University has been trying to move to online over the last several semesters. 2019 was the first wide scale semester that we did an online delivery of most of the associate level general courses. In that semester 58.7% of the students either did not complete the courses or failed the course so there’s many issues to work out because no changes have been made to that delivery since that time. Last semester I believe one of the interviews I saw with the president and the vice president they made notice that people did not fail the online courses but that was because students were given the option to drop out of those courses up until one week towards the end of the course with no financial penalty. So every lecturer basically convinced the students that were having failing grades to leave the course and be able to take it again at no cost at a next semester. So it’s important to note that we need to time to be able to get these classes up, to be able to give students this quality education. Every online university does not offer traditional fifteen to sixteen week semesters. I went to school for eight years online, my semesters were eight weeks long most universities even here in Belize, Galen is starting on the 31st, UWI the 14th of September, why because this is the norm. So UB is making some changes from face to face to online then if you’re going to do it we need to do it right in accordance with the procedures that other universities have set out to do.”
Dr. Christopher Deshield, General Secretary, UB Faculty and Staff Union: “The shuffling and rearranging of the way these courses are given out and the inadequate time allowed faculty to prepare for that delivery those are the chief issues and that’s been an unfortunate thing about the start of the semester. I would like to say also that in the video that seems to be circulated everywhere that the union put out it was just showing the faculty and staff that these first weeks that while we’re preparing for these things that we go through the advising and take care of the students in terms of their orientation and all of that. So on top of the preparation for these courses we also have this other kind of role it’s even a pastoral role in some cases where we have to prepare the students for these things. So just as my colleague said there’s lots of other work that goes on with the start of the semester that we must be engaged in as lecturers.”
Another reason the Union asked for a delay in the reopening of classes had to do with an increase in their workload. As we have reported previously, Faculty members are required to teach 5 distinct courses each. The reasoning behind the added workload is that the Board was expecting a drop in the number of students who would be registering for this semester. Additionally, some teachers were informed at the very last minute of the extra courses they would be teaching. Dr Pio Saqui, the president of UBFSU, and Timothy Dami, explained that, contrary to the Board’s reasoning, their workload has grown.
Dr Pio Saqui, President of UBFSU: “The course for example right now is that I looked at the number of students that has been proposed for me to teach, added all together I have about 240 students that I’ll be teaching all together and registration is not yet over and there’s add drop period for two weeks so these numbers can change very quickly. What I can tell you is that there has never been a semester where I have taught a class that did not have at least twenty students in it and I teach one of the general core courses. In my professional course it’s whatever we admit that cohort will go up to all the other semesters and usually that number depends on what the intake was or whatever transfer we get. Currently from what I’m looking at the numbers they are much higher actually as per my courses they have been much higher than they have been in previous semesters.”
Timothy Dami, Faculty of Science & Technology, University of Belize Toledo Campus: “When it comes to enrollment there was two ways if you could look at enrollment; one is the number of students that are attending your university and also the number of courses that those students are taking and we can tell you that right now as of yesterday the enrollment for the university versus last semester by number of students was down around 3% right so basically there’s about 4,600 students are attending the university this semester. So this projection that the president came with 25% we’re not sure where he got it from, he made allude it to because of the fact that he’s still in Trinidad that he had met with colleagues from around the world and different people in the university or tertiary management system but the thing is that with the University of Belize is the primary and the only national university here and it offers the most financial and sound investment for student when it comes to price so typically we won’t take the hit that others have. The number of enrollments is actually about 21,000 which means that that is up 6.1% and that equates to real money because each one of those enrollments refers to a credit and each credit has a price so therefore the financials of the university is about flat from last semester to this semester based on what we’re seeing.”
In a poll of over one hundred and thirty teachers, over ninety percent of teachers stated that they are not prepared to start teaching online classes. The remaining teachers stated that they were somewhat prepared, but not fully.