BY LAURA McFADZEAN
Monash University staff muted then removed a student from a Zoom Q&A session on July 27 after she questioned the Faculty of Arts’ quality of education this year.
According to the Monash University Orientation Planner, students were invited to “ask questions and share experiences” in the session held on Monday, prior to the start of semester two on August 3.
However, in a screen recording published by activist group Student Fightback Monash - No Fee Increases (SFM), a Monash University staff member is shown to deflect students’ questions about the quality of education.
During the Q&A, SFM organiser and third year Arts student Kelly Cvetkova said she did not understand how Monash University could claim the quality of online learning was the same as on-campus learning.
“We’re lacking so much of the experience that we would normally get, like interactions with other students, interactions with our staff,” Ms Cvetkova said during the Q&A.
Victoria has twice been subject to government-enforced lockdowns during 2020, after the state government declared a state of emergency on March 16 as a measure to prevent the spread of the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus.
Stage 3 restrictions are currently being enforced in the state, and were in place from March 23 - June 1, preventing gatherings that would permit university classes to run as normal during semester one.
During the Q&A, Ms Cvetkova also cited staff sackings, units being cut and reused lecture materials as reasons why she believes the quality of education cannot be said to be the same during online learning.
She was then muted by staff and removed from the Zoom, which had around 120 attendees.
Ms Cvetkova told MOJO News she “expected a bit of hostility” from staff in their response, however did not anticipate being muted, then ultimately removed from the session.
“I was shocked with how blatant [staff] were...calling it a ‘friendly space’, then muting me and kicking me out, and then muting other students,” she said.
“There was a bit of a chat there, where people were like ‘what the f--- is going on’?”
Ms Cvetkova said the chat function was ultimately disabled for all attendees after students expressed their support for her.
However, she said the incident has not been entirely negative and has helped fuel support for the SFM Facebook page.
“I think students were receptive and equally angry about what happened, but it was definitely a kind of hostile attitude from Monash University at least in that meeting,” she said.
“Hopefully as a result people become more involved with the campaign and can voice their opinions in some way.”
The Dean of Arts, Professor Sharon Pickering, greeted students at the beginning of the session, however left shortly after.
A Monash University spokesperson said the students, from an “unverified group”, were not invited and interrupted the session.
However, students did not have to receive a personal invite to attend.
The Zoom meet-and-greet was advertised as an activity on the Orientation Planner, with all students welcome to participate in O-Week activities.
The Monash University spokesperson said those hosting the session were not university spokespeople and were unable to answer students’ questions on topics that were not intended to be covered.
They also said these students held “misinformed” views.
“Commentary on staff cuts and lack of support during online teaching (due to COVID-19) are untrue, disruptive and seemed designed to cause unnecessary anxiety for students about to start their university journey in an already difficult time,” the spokesperson said.
“The student references ‘job cut’ numbers, which have been transparently disclosed by the university in response to loss of revenue due to COVID-19, and have not yet taken place.”
The spokesperson also said the assertion online delivery is ‘cheaper’ is “ill informed”.
“As everyone knows all Australian universities - and many globally - set out to deliver on-campus experiences this year, however due to COVID-19 we had to quickly deliver online and on-campus in parallel and then had to flip - in a very short timeframe - at Monash this was 2300 units for semester one.”
According to data provided to MOJO News from the Faculty of Arts, student satisfaction increased from 80.87 per cent in Semester 1, 2019 to 81.97 per cent in Semester 1, 2020.
The average unit mark for semester one 2020 also increased from 71.41 to 74.76 per cent.
The spokesperson said any assertions the quality of learning has reduced due to online learning is incorrect.
“Monash has invested heavily in digital platforms, education and teaching, and campaigns to connect its students and has had a remarkable student satisfaction and response to this,” the spokesperson said.
SFM organiser and second year Arts student Jayden Trask said his expectations of the Q&A session were “pretty low”.
Mr Trask had previously attended a July 15 webinar with Professor Pickering, however said the session “turned out to be just a pre-recorded interview that they put up”.
“In the chat, whenever we asked questions, the faculty would just copy and paste pre-written answers,” he said.
Mr Trask said it was “really distressing and worrying” staff muted students who asked questions concerning quality of education, and disabled the chat function.
“[The faculty] make it out as if they’re trying to give us a little bit of democracy, a little bit of a platform to have a discussion...as soon as we say something, we get shot down,” he said.
“They weren’t planning to discuss the staff sackings, even fee [reductions], or even online learning really in any meaningful way.
“They put on this seminar and it just had this horrible aura of being so corporatised and cleansed of anything meaningful that students wanted.”
SFM will be hosting a Zoom meeting on July 31 for students to “ask questions and demand answers” from Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Gardner.
Mr Trask said the group is not actually expecting Professor Gardner to appear at the event.
However, Mr Trask believes the event will demonstrate there are “students who want to have their voices heard”.
“We don’t want to have an undemocratic situation where we’re being kicked and muted if we bring up any issues,” he said.
To read the full statement from the Monash University spokesperson, click here.