TORONTO, January 24, 2022 – The voices of Ontario university faculty and academic librarians continue to be ignored by university administrations as postsecondary institutions rush back to in-person learning—even as COVID-19 cases across the province remain high. Outbreaks at universities and in university communities are inevitable if university administrations withhold information about campus health and safety and refuse to work collaboratively with faculty to make decisions about the return to in-person learning.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, university administrations have developed the bad habit of making decisions about campus health and safety behind closed doors and circumventing existing shared governance bodies that include the voices of campus unions,” said Sue Wurtele, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. “Given the increased danger of campus outbreaks with the Omicron variant, it should be obvious that this cycle can’t continue. It’s time to take the safer path, which requires full transparency about campus health and safety issues and accountable governing bodies that include experts from campus unions.”
At universities across Ontario, there is concern about what the rest of the winter term will look like. Many universities have signaled their intention to return to in-person learning by the beginning of February. However, faculty and academic librarians are concerned that they have not been adequately informed or meaningfully consulted about what this return should look like. Since the Ford government partially exempted postsecondary institutions from capacity and distancing requirements last year, postsecondary faculty, staff, and students have been left to wonder why they are being required to gather in spaces that do not meet broader provincial health guidelines.
When university campuses are in operation, thousands of individuals physically interact on a daily basis. This increases the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak on campus, but also in the larger community. In the midst of the Omicron surge, access to third doses, testing, and adequate personal protective must be a prerequisite for a return to in-person learning.
“COVID-19 represents a real and substantial threat to those working and studying at Ontario’s universities,” said Wurtele. “University administrations should only be proceeding with a return to in-person learning if campus unions and health and safety committees are part of developing these plans. Faculty and academic librarians are tired of having their health and safety taken for granted and ignored. They are tired of shortsighted government and university plans that ignore the reality of this pandemic. The constant pivoting is exhausting.”
As much as faculty, staff, and students might like to return to normal, this pandemic is not over. University administrations must work with faculty and other campus unions to plot a cautious and safe path forward. This path should be based on facts and science and, where reasonable, exceed local public health guidelines. It should be determined through existing shared governance structures and not be undermined by reckless exemptions haphazardly introduced by the Ford government.
Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty, academic librarians, and other academic professionals in 31 member associations across Ontario. It is committed to enhancing the quality of higher education in Ontario and recognizing the outstanding contributions of its members towards creating a world-class university system. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.
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