TORONTO – Today, Minister of Colleges and Universities Ross Romano announced a new program that provides a framework for Ontario’s postsecondary institutions to allow some students to return to campus on July 2. University faculty are committed to doing everything they can to maintain educational quality and continuity in these challenging times, but health and safety must continue to be the priority. Faculty are concerned that Ontario’s universities may not be ready to safely reopen.
“Faculty want nothing more than to return to the classroom and again be able to engage with students on campus,” said Rahul Sapra, President of OCUFA. “However, faculty are legitimately concerned that Ontario’s universities may not be ready to reopen in a way that adequately protects the safety of students, faculty, and staff.”
On May 26, the Ontario Universities and Colleges Coalition, of which OCUFA is a member, sent an urgent letter to Minister Romano and Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development Monte McNaughton raising concerns that many university and college Joint Health and Safety Committees (JHSC) were being excluded from return-to-work planning and decisions regarding on-campus operations. The letter noted that union representation and JHSC inclusion are essential for ensuring campus workers’ voices are adequately heard and best practices for protecting the safety and health of campus communities are followed as preparations are made for reopening.
Today’s announcement made no mention of these committees or the lack of consultation on university campuses. Universities interested in participating in the government’s new program must make it an immediate priority to engage their JHSCs and ensure all labour unions, faculty associations, and student unions at their institutions are consulted about the safeguards that will need to be in place to safely reopen.
“Refusing to consult with Joint Health and Safety Committees and campus unions, ignoring their recommendations, or cutting corners in the rush to reopen would not just be reckless, it would needlessly jeopardize the health and safety of faculty members, students, and staff,” said Sapra. “As universities start to plan for the Fall term, it is imperative that faculty associations are consulted in a meaningful way. Administrators must stop using the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to cut faculty and other campus workers out of these important discussions.”
Further, no individual who has legitimate concerns about their health and safety should be required to return to campus while there is still a state of emergency in the province. This decision should be made voluntarily by those individuals without fear of reprisal.
Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 faculty, academic librarians, and other academic professionals in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. The OUCC represents over 435,000 faculty, staff, and students from every public postsecondary institution in the province.
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