Masks, vaccinations not mandatory at U of C this fall; decision sparks backlash from faculty
The University of Calgary has unveiled its COVID-19 plans for students, staff and athletics this fall, sparking quick backlash from faculty who say the measures don't go far enough.
In an open letter, U of C President and Vice-Chancellor Ed McCauley says the university has been reviewing measures in place -- given the recent restriction changes in Alberta and spread of the Delta variant -- and have made some changes that will take effect for the next semester.
VACCINATIONS AND MASKING
Being vaccinated will not be mandatory, but the U of C says it’s working with Alberta Health Services to offer additional vaccination clinics on campus in September.
“Vaccines protect us all. They are highly effective against all known variants, especially for severe disease," McCauley wrote in his letter.
"If you have not already done so, we strongly encourage you to get vaccinated."
The university is also not making masks mandatory, but recommends they be worn in all buildings and residences.
A recent survey shows more than 92 per cent of faculty and staff and more than 84 per cent of students have already been vaccinated and more plan to be before classes resume next month.
FACULTY CONCERNS AND ONLINE LEARNING
A number of faculty members have expressed their outrage and disappointment over the decision to not make vaccinations or masks mandatory on campus for the fall.
In a letter signed by 21 law faculty members to school administration, professors expressed “grave concerns” over the spread of COVID-19 to those who cannot be vaccinated, are immunocompromised, or those would could be infected with the Delta variant regardless of vaccinations.
“We are keen to return to in-person learning at the Faculty of Law, provided that it is safe to do so. Unfortunately, the public safety approach adopted thus far by the University of Calgary does not reflect an evidence-based response to these threats,” the letter reads.
Another letter, sent to faculty members from Teri Balser, U of C vice-president (academic), and David Steward, president of the Faculty Association, suggests that academic staff members with personal concerns about COVID-19 have the option to switch their course to online or a blended delivery model.
“Most students have already registered in courses for the fall term and have made travel plans and living arrangement based on the teaching modality and we do expect most of the UCalgary community will be back on our campuses again this fall. Nevertheless, as the situation around COVID-19 evolves, it is understandable that instructor concerns around teaching in person might evolve as well,” the letter reads.
Staff scheduled to teach in person courses for the fall 2021 semester can switch to online, but will need to work with the dean or associate dean for approval by Aug. 20. Once the change is made, they cannot revert back to in-person teaching during the term.
TESTING, CONTACT TRACING AND AIR VENTILATION
The U of C is introducing rapid testing for residences, varsity athletics and field schools where students reside on-site, at the cost of the university. Ongoing testing will not be required if a student is able to prove they are fully vaccinated.
The athletic department is currently working through the details on how this will roll out as it prepares to bring athletes back to campus in the coming weeks.
Michael Blondal, head coach of Dinos swimming, says he’s still waiting to hear what the testing will look like for players, but said he’s comfortable with the measure regardless.
While Alberta winds down its contact tracing program, the U of C says it’s working to provide an on-campus service. Students and staff can provide a list of contacts to firstname.lastname@example.org and the institution will make an effort to contact anyone connected to a positive case.
The institution is also working to make sure ventilation systems have specialized filters and meet ASHRAE standards.
McCauley added that it’s important people are kind to one another amid the changes.
“This has been a year-and-a-half like no other and your friends, fellow students and colleagues will be in different places as we start the fall semester. The situation with COVID-19 has evolved rapidly," he said.
"Vaccination has fundamentally changed the situation, but we are human and the anxiety will remain for some time.”
OTHER UNIVERSITY POLICIES
Staff and students at other Alberta institutions have expressed concerns with returning to campus come fall for in-person learning, including students at Mount Royal University and the University of Alberta, neither of which will require mandatory vaccines.
This comes as some universities in Canada make vaccinations mandatory for in-class learning, including the University of Ottawa and Toronto’s Seneca College.
The University of Toronto will additionally require vaccination for students and faculty who "engage in activities with a higher risk of COVID-19 transmission,” such as those in athletics or music instrumentation.
In B.C., public post-secondary institutions, including the University of British Columbia, are following the direction of the provincial government which hasn't recommended mandatory vaccinations.