Melbourne Law School’s Response to COVID-19

12 March 2020
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The Melbourne Law School has announced plans to make available recordings of all streams of compulsory subjects in response to growing concerns around COVID-19. An email sent this afternoon (March 12) informed all Juris Doctor students that this was a temporary response to what Associate Dean (JD) Arlen Duke called “challenging and ever-changing circumstances”.

This decision runs counter to the Law School’s established policy of not making recordings accessible, despite lobbying from student bodies. This includes campaigns from the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU).

In the email, Duke explained the reasoning behind the decision.

“We have decided to suspend this policy due to the exceptional, unprecedented and constantly evolving situation that has arisen because of COVID-19,” he said.

“We hope that doing so will allow students to comply with safe health practices and stay at home if they need to whilst not being penalised.”

However, Duke also stressed that this measure did not reflect a change in Law School policy. 

“This is a temporary measure and is in no way indicative of a shift in thinking by the Law School.”

From UMSU, Education (Academic) Office Bearer Georgia Walton Briggs praised the Law School’s response.

“It’s a great step forward, and we hope that the Law Faculty continues to release the recorded lectures for students beyond the current COVID-19 situation.”

Education (Public) Office Bearer Charlie Joyce agreed. He added in a statement: 

“It is nonetheless regretful that it took a public health crisis for MLS to begin to think about the accessibility of education.” 

UMSU President, Hannah Buchan, communicated similar sentiments regarding the availability of lecture recordings. 

“It is great to see that the Melbourne Law School is finally providing lecture recordings,” she said.

“However, it is disappointing that this is only a temporary measure and is not indicative of a shift of thinking within the MLS. The school needs to be aware that the accessibility of the JD is not a temporary issue.”

UMSU General Secretary, Jack Buksh, told Farrago that the Law School response should reflect the necessity of moving all educational content online. 

He further added: “I hope that Chancellory [sic] is providing support for the teaching staff that will have an additional workload in order to move content online.”

Vice-Chancellor, Duncan Maskell, sent a university-wide email this afternoon (March 12), outlining the University’s preparedness for what the World Health Organisation has now termed a pandemic.

“It is important in the face of COVID-19 that we remain well informed and measured in our responses, but also highly responsive to changes in the situation in order to minimise the risk to our community,” he said.

The email also outlines a series of recommendations students should follow to mitigate the risk of infection. Maskell stated that the University has a “dedicated team” managing the crisis. No further information was provided regarding University plans in the event of an outbreak on any of its campuses.

These developments come in the wake of the temporary closing of some schools in Victoria, including Carey Baptist Grammar, in the eastern suburbs.

Additionally, La Trobe University confirmed its first case among the student body today. Despite this, the campus will remain open.

While no cases have been officially reported among students or staff at the University of Melbourne, one reddit user, u/vantaed, posted in the r/unimelb subreddit that a Korean tutorial was allegedly interrupted halfway through, with one individual quarantined in the Commerce building on Tuesday (March 10).

The user subsequently posted an email allegedly from the tutor that appeared to confirm this.

“For those of you allocated to my tutorial session I am sorry but I will have to cancel todays tutorial. I am stuck in self-isolation for 24hrs awaiting the results of a coronavirus test [sic],” they said.

A University spokesperson responded to these allegations.

“We are continuing to monitor the dynamic situation closely and are not aware of confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the University of Melbourne.”

More generally, the National Union of Students has released a statement critical of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 stimulus plan.

March 13, 12:26PM update.

Melbourne University Law Students’ Society President, Daniel Bennett-Spark has also commented on the decision to release lecture recordings, welcoming the decision.

“MULSS has spearheaded a long-running campaign to improve access to recordings for JD students, and hopefully this step will encourage further consideration of students’ needs from MLS. Lack of access to lecture recordings puts MLS out of step with the rest of the University and unfairly detriments students forced to miss class due to illness and work or care commitments.”

This is a developing story.

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