Student Life

Institute retracts remote learning request approval, calling initial approval an “error”

On Tuesday night, students were notified that previous emails approving their remote learning requests for the upcoming Spring semester were sent “in error.” The email, sent by Assistant Vice President for Student Life Travis Apgar, states “Unfortunately an automated message was sent to you in error indicating that you have been approved for remote learning. Please disregard that message. Your request has not been approved.” Remote learning requests will be evaluated based off of students’ “underlying medical vulnerabilities” or inability to travel to campus. Students will be notified of the status of their remote learning requests by December 18, 2020, one week after the on-campus housing application deadline of December 11, 2020. This deadline is for students’ roommate and housing preferences to be taken into consideration by the Office of Student Living and Learning.

The Polytechnic received a statement via email from Director of Media Relations and Communications Reeve Hamilton on behalf of Apgar explaining that the automated message was created “to acknowledge receipt of student’s submission. That response incorrectly indicated approval of the request.”

Apgar’s statement also adds “As the Dean of Students, I felt it critical to notify those students as quickly as possible, which I did in an email sent last night...We are using a process consistent with that of the fall, and we will take into account matters of health and pandemic related difficulties.”

In the email to students announcing that there was an error, it said that “it is expected that all eligible students will be in person learners, and our policy requires that all first and second year student live in campus housing” and that there would be “limited exception to those requirements will be granted e.g., where students have underlying medical vulnerabilities or will be unable to travel.”

The announcement sparked outrage in the student body. In a joint email to the student body, Grand Marshal Advaith Narayan ’21, President of the Union Anissa Choiniere ’21, President of the Interfraternity Council Chris Vanderloo ’21, and President of the Panhellenic Council Bryn Clarkson ’21 “condemn the actions of the Rensselaer Administration to revoke previously granted remote learning approvals.” They recognized that Rensselaer has done a good job containing COVID-19, but highlighted that “this feat was achieved with a significantly lowered density on campus and the ability for students to remain away.” The email also emphasizes that “the health of our student body and all other personnel at Rensselaer should be of utmost importance.”

Additionally, a petition on the Student Senate petition website calling for sophomores to have the option of remote learning off-campus reached over 390 signatures within 24 hours of being posted. The petition says that “it would be irresponsible and unethical to force students to reside in on-campus housing and dining plans.” Since the petition gathered over 250 signatures, there must be a discussion in the Senate about the petition, as stated on the Union petitions website. The petition can only be signed by currently enrolled students and the initials of students who signed the petition are indicated on the website.

In the Student Success Discord server, students asked if the email announcement implied that most applicants would be denied remote learning requests, to which Dean of Student Success Louis Trezpacz said “I don't see how that would be the interpretation [of the email].” Later, Trezpacz said that “requests are reviewed the same as they were last semester,” and that more information would be coming in the next couple of days.

Narayan met with Deans Apgar and Konwerski on Wednesday evening. In a comment to The Poly, Narayan said that “they [Deans Apgar and Konwerski] didn’t want it to come across that people will not be approved to be remote.” Instead they plan on addressing each request on a case-by-case basis “as they did in the Fall.” Narayan added that “from what I understood, it is almost certain if you have a serious reason to be remote you will be approved.” When asked about what the deans said regarding cases where people would like to study remotely due to feeling uncomfortable coming to campus or having all remote classes, Narayan said “they [the deans] said those would be assessed case by case.”