UVA Law tells National Guard student she can't finish semester AND serve her country. That didn't sit very well.
- The University of Virginia's law school backtracked after initially telling a student in the National Guard she would have to withdraw.
- The student had been called up to serve in New York State in response to the coronavirus crisis.
- The law school later made an exception, but only after significant public backlash.
The University of Virginia is backtracking after initially telling one of its law students that she may have to withdraw because her National Guard unit was activated to assist in New York State amid the coronavirus crisis.
On March 17, Frannie Skardon, a UVA law student and a member of the New York National Guard, was deployed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Skardon notified the UVA administration that her unit had been activated and planned to finish the semester as planned since classes were online and the National Guard agreed to allow her up to six hours per day to complete her coursework.
UVA, on the other hand, wasn't so supportive- at least not at first.
The UVA administration informed her she was in violation of an academic policy, which states that “Students may not engage in employment in excess of what is compatible with a full-time commitment to the study of the law." The administration had determined she was unable to complete the remainder of the semester because of her duty to serve her country in this time of national crisis.
Skardon asked for a waiver but the administration initially decided against granting the exception and gave her 24 hours to appeal.
Skardon started a petition to get the administration to reconsider its decision, which amassed more than 5,700 signatures. Skardon also penned a letter to the editor of Virginia Law Weekly, in which she Skardon informed readers of her situation.
"This policy makes sense in normal times, as it helps develop the collegial environment that drew many of us to UVA Law. But as we all know, these are not normal times...because campus is closed, I am learning and engaging in the law school community in the same format as students scattered across the nation," Skardon wrote.
"This withdrawal means that I will not receive credit for any of my classes this semester and that I will need to retake them in Spring 2021...Additionally, I may not be able to take upper level classes that require Property or Constitutional Law as a prerequisite until my 3L year," she added in the April 1 letter.
The next day, UVA Law announced it would grant Skardon a waiver.
“We are thrilled with this outcome and regret any uncertainty the process caused. We have a long history of supporting service members at UVA Law, and we’re indebted to them and all who serve. We are grateful for Ms. Skardon’s service to our country and the daily sacrifices service members make to protect us all," the law school said, according to Virginia Law Weekly.
Dean Risa Goluboff made an additional statement, saying, “I appreciate the many members of our community who have reached out to express support for Frannie. They showed the best of the UVA community. UVA Law has always supported and taken great pride in our students, faculty, staff, and alumni who serve our nation. I am so proud of and grateful to Frannie for her service, and I look forward to seeing her in Charlottesville next fall.
Brian T. Coy, assistant vice president for communications wrote in yet another email to Campus Reform:
“The University of Virginia has long supported students who are military service members and has a robust ROTC program. Colleges across the country have rules that limit the number of hours a student can do paid work and still be a full-time student. In ordinary times, before we moved courses online, it was typical for students to take leaves of absence when called to serve in the military, because they could not attend classes in Charlottesville. When this happens, the University refunds their tuition for the semester and welcomes them back when they are ready to resume their studies. Frannie Skardon was called to serve in the National Guard full-time, and needed an exception to our policies. She remained a student throughout the Law School's review process, and was not withdrawn. She was granted the waiver, which allows her to complete her semester at the Law School and also to serve in the National Guard full-time.”
Allison Burns, president of the UVA Black Law Students Association said of the situation in a statement to Campus Reform that she was "overwhelmed" by all the support for Skardon.
"Students and faculty alike immediately came together 'virtually' to brainstorm ideas to advocate for her while being respectful of her privacy and her mission as a soldier," Burns said. "I am proud to call her a classmate and relieved that the school made the right decision in the face of unusual times.”
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