By: Manahel Ayyaz Khan
After active social media, press, and in-person campaigning, the student body and the administration came together to the table to discuss a phased reopening, with strict implementation of standard operating protocols (SOPs). A Zoom town hall, moderated by the Student Council, was held on 21st August to discuss the possibility of a hybrid reopening of the campus for the Fall semester. The result of the dialogue led to the decision of having a phased reopening with 160 students coming in the first phase. As of the third week of October, an additional 311 students were brought back to campus after a recent announcement. Moreover, additional students, including Masters students, are expected to return in November if things go well.
At the start of Fall Semester, a post on LDF by a returning student portrayed a grim picture of what on-campus life for students might look like with the implementation of SOPs. But midway into the semester, a further relaxation in these have raised hopes of having a full return to campus by Spring 2021, considering the current COVID situation, in the hearts of some, if not all.
The students that were prioritized regarding the phased opening included students with internet connectivity issues, PhD students with stipends, and students with unsafe home environments.
In order to ensure utmost safety of the returning students, detailed and stringent SOP guidelines were sent to returning students. Most notable clauses in these included:
- All lectures during Fall 2020 will be online.
- Students are not allowed to use common rooms and lifts which will remain locked.
- Takeaways are allowed but with contactless deliveries. The order should be placed on the table at the security gate for pick up.
- Visitors are only allowed in cases of emergency.
- Off-campus visits will only be allowed in the case of emergency and for only certain hours.
- If a student needs to stay overnight, upon return the student will have to stay in quarantine for 5 days and after 5 days the student will have to get tested, the cost of which will be borne by the student themselves.
- In order to go off-campus, students should get a request approved through OSA at least 24 hours in advance. They should provide the purpose of visit, proof of the purpose, time, duration and the place of visit.
- A student who feels unwell and leaves for home will not be allowed back on campus for the remainder of the semester.
Some of these regulations caused concern among the returning students, especially the ones who needed to go out for jobs in order to maintain themselves. Bilal Naeem ‘21 told The Post that the university had promised to provide on-campus earning opportunities to such students, but a follow-up has not been made on that yet.
There were also collective concerns about some facilities–or the lack thereof–on campus. During the first few days of accommodation, none of the outlets on campus were open, except Jammin Java. This led to major inconvenience for students as many had to go grocery shopping, but the SOPs did not allow them to step outside campus premises––while faculty members, at that time, could. It is important to note that a lot of students do not have friends or relatives outside that could provide this service. Alternatives like Uber do exist. However, according to Zoha Batool ‘21, “Often the riders bring in wrong orders and for someone on a strict student budget, the service also often gets pricey.”
Some more concerns shared on LDF included lack of ACs in the buildings, leading to heat exposures due to the extreme weather of Lahore. Fortunately, the recent relaxation in the protocols allow the students to go off campus with a curfew at 8 pm so they may finish any important off-campus tasks.
It is also interesting to note at this point that various students are having very differing experiences on campus. One female student complained about being scolded for leaving the hostel after 10 pm because she wanted to get her food delivery from the In-Gate. However, Naeem ‘21 claims to have had a different experience, “I was out till midnight, but no one batted an eye.” It is also interesting to note that whilst some students are facing major problems, others appear to be satisfied with the accommodation. “I couldn’t work at home due to severe connectivity issues,” said Naeem ‘21, “so I’m not complaining.”
The students who returned in Phase 1 had to face all kinds of troubles that were surely hard for anyone to anticipate. Earlier in September, a post on LDF by a returning student on campus indicated the state of on-campus facilitation, “I have weak eye-sight and I need to get new glasses made but apparently, it isn’t important enough to count as an emergency!” said a distressed Batool ‘21. Meanwhile, other students expressed gratitude to the university for letting them on campus and saving them hassle.
“What irritates us aren’t the cage-like restrictions,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous, “it’s the fact that the faculty and administration themselves don’t seem to be following the SOPs. It’s almost as if the admin believes that the students are the only potential transmitters of the virus!”
Addressing this issue, Dr. Arshad Ahmed, the former Provost, said that during the trial period the management tried to implement some SOPs to see if they actually work not just for the students on campus, but for everyone residing at the university. “We are mindful and we do know that there appear to be different rules for different people here. Our goal is to have the same rules for everyone on campus and that is the direction we are going in. That includes students, faculty and staff as well as any visitors.”
However, where there seem to be a lot of mixed feelings about the SOPs and their implementation, the returning students have expressed deep gratitude towards the behavior of the general staff, many of whom have shared their numbers and offered help in case of emergencies. A faculty member offered to disburse Rs. 100,000 in order to help the students in need and according to one source who wished to stay anonymous, the Jammin Java staff has expressed that they miss the bustle of the campus a lot.
Vice Chancellor Dr. Arshad Ahmed, regarding the future of these SOPs and campus reopening, said, “We are currently working on a 3 step process regarding further protocols. The first will be a COVID client specific procedure where we aim to increase the availability of on and off-campus check-ups for any potential cases.” The second phase will see the opening of an isolation center on campus for potential cases and those they have been in physical contact with. The third phase will be for the cases that worsen, for which they are working with two hospitals at the moment.
Finally, the VC expressed his intention to bring the student community back to LUMS in its full strength for Spring 2021 if the situation remains favorable. “A clearer communication regarding this would be made in November,” he said. “We are also considering utilizing the open spaces on campus in order to meet the government guidelines regarding COVID protocols.”
With an unstable COVID scenario but overall positive trends in returning to normalcy nationwide, the LUMS community is eager to see a full return to campus for Spring 2021. This anticipation is further heightened by an additional number of students returning to campus and the relaxation in the SOPs, a major component of which is that students will now be allowed to go off-campus with a curfew at 8 pm. While this eases many inconveniences they may have faced so far, hopes for even further modifications and an overall favorable COVID scenario nationwide is what the community needs to hold onto.