Face to Face: UM student James Flanagan adapts to new academic life

Like most of his peers at the University of Montana, James Flanagan has spent the past month working to establish a new routine and focus on his online courses.

A sophomore at UM and a member of the student senate, Flanagan gave the university mixed marks for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Speaking only as a student, he said the adjustments haven’t been easy for anyone.

That includes a transition to online learning.

“A lot of it comes with holding yourself accountable and getting into a new routine,” said Flanagan. “We’re in an unprecedented time. This situation is one that none of us have ever been through or predict. There comes a lot of stress and anxiety with it. A lot of it is finding new ways to deal with that.”

With the state’s stay-at-home order in place and campus closed to most activities, Flanagan has sought new ways to balance life with school. In his free time, he skateboards around his apartment, but it’s his education and role on the student senate that occupies most of his time.

“We started doing all of our meetings, committee and senate, online through Zoom, as most other organizations have,” he said. “We’ve also taken into account the shelter-in-place protocol and suspended our travel allocations for funding, as well as funding for any sort of events.”

Flanagan said his student peers have mixed emotions about the current situation. Some students have expressed frustration with online learning while others have adapted well.

In the new environment, the school recently shifted to a credit score rather than a grade.

“That’s been a great resource for students,” said Flanagan. “I think a lot of people are really happy with that.”

Flanagan also believes the university handled the shift to online learning well. It was announced back in March by the Montana University System and put in place after spring break.

But moving students from campus dorms into the wider community doesn’t get the same high marks, he said.

“Speaking as a student, I understand they’re doing their best, but there’s some instances where I think they could have done a lot better. One instance that comes to mind is when they made the decision to start asking those who live on campus to leave the dorms,” he said.

“I think that was a decision that one, could have been made a lot earlier, and two, could have been done more effectively.