- Courtesy of the University of Texas at San Antonio
Destiny Anguiano, a returning sophomore at UTSA, created the petition two weeks ago after the university announced that it was laying off hundreds of employees prior to reopening for the upcoming semester.
"As a sophomore student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I am appalled out how my school is handling the Fall 2020 plans," Anguiano wrote.
UTSA plans to open its campus for the fall semester, but to conduct the majority of its classes online as the COVID-19 case count continue to rise in San Antonio and around the state.
In an email to the student body on July 8, UTSA President Taylor Eighmy, Provost Kimberly Andrews Espy and Chief Financial Officer Veronica Salazar Mendez wrote that fall tuition rates will remain unchanged, though "some mandatory fees may be adjusted pending final decisions regarding campus services."
Tuition and fees for the 2020-21 academic year costs $10,154
Despite this, Eighmy announced on July 1 that UTSA was laying off 243 staff members and declining to renew the contracts of 69 non-tenure track faculty.
The university is defending its decision to charge full tuition for a semester that will largely be conducted online in an FAQ page on its website, stating "the cost of providing a high-quality educational experience remains generally consistent." It added that, in some cases, "online instruction can actually be more expensive to deliver, depending on the academic program."
Eighmy did not respond to a request for comment.
Anguiano expressed her frustration with the layoffs in the petition, which Eighmy wrote were due to a projected $35.8 million revenue shortfall for the 2022-23 year.
Anguiano expressed frustration with the size of the university police budget, which is larger than that of its student services division. She also called UTSA's hygiene plan — which does include sanitizing classrooms after each use — "highly concerning."
"Charging full tuition for an unsafe environment is despicable," she wrote.
The petition also addresses another point: the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color. Latinx people are four times as likely as whites to be hospitalized for COVID-19.
In Bexar County, which is 60 percent Latinx, those residents have accounted for more than 75% of COVID-19 cases.
UTSA's student body is majority Latinx, and an in-person reopening might further exacerbate the risk of further spreading the virus to the San Antonio's Hispanic population, Anguiano said.
"UTSA knows that [online-only learning] is probably coming, but they're choosing to keep the tuition where it is, because that way they have charged us and it's much harder to get that money back," Alcocer said.
UTSA has already announced that it will conclude the fall semester online after the Thanksgiving break. It has not yet released information on how it plans to conduct the spring semester.
UTSA has not yet released its class schedule for the fall, but Alcocer, who has asthma, plans to take all classes online.
Anguiano plans to also plans to study only exclusively, but doesn't yet know where she will be this fall. She would prefer to remain at home in Houston but already signed a lease in San Antonio prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"I don't feel safe returning to campus," she said. "I honestly have no idea what I'm going to do."
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.