Eduvation Blog

March in the Minefields

Good morning, and welcome to March!

Some of you may be returning from Reading Week, or just beginning it. For me, it’s back to another busy week of (virtual) conferencing, keynoting, and presenting to board retreats, so you may notice I will try to streamline the length of the Insider as best I can. (Sadly, brevity doesn’t seem to be the soul of my wit…) 

In my weekly review of the pandemic, we hear how the month ahead will be much like navigating a “minefield” of erupting COVID19 variants. (And sure enough, 2 institutions in Peterborough are experiencing that first-hand this weekend.)

I also share some more CdnPSE announcements of plans for Fall – in which we see institutions tiptoeing through another kind of minefield, in which a verbal mis-step now could send prospective students scattering. And finally, I share some updates on the Laurentian U insolvency proceedings, a financial and political minefield until at least Apr 30…



Pandemic Précis

Across Canada and around the world, provincial economies are reopening and case counts are plateauing or starting to rise as a result. Many experts warn that we may be inviting a third wave this spring by relaxing precautions, and that we’re making our way through a “minefield” of proliferating COVID19 variants…


Variants on the Rise: Although new case counts of COVID19 in Canada have been dropping since Christmas, they are up 3% since last week, thanks to the more-contagious UK variant (B.1.1.7) in particular. Ontario has identified 477 cases of the UK variant so far, and expects it to account for 40% of cases within 2 weeks. (The province also has 14 cases of the South Africa B.1.351 variant already, and 2 of the Brazil B. variant.) Saskatchewan has detected 2 more cases of the UK variant, and its first case of the SA variant. And then there have been new variants of concern arising independently in California (B.1.427 and B.1.429), and now in New York. “The devil is already here,” says a California researcher.


“For the most part, these vaccines have been evaluated for all these various variants. The possibility that mutation will develop a resistance to vaccines, it’s very low — nearly zero, I’d say.”Levon Abrahamyan, Virologist, uMontreal



Lifting Restrictions: Many jurisdictions are relaxing lockdowns, or moving to looser levels of pandemic alert. The UK is embarking on a “one-way road to freedom” that will see most restrictions lifted, perhaps as early as June. Japan may lift its state of emergency earlier than planned this month.  Denmark’s PM says the country will take a “calculated risk” in reopening smaller shops and some schools in March, after lockdowns in place since December. New South Wales and South Australia started easing more restrictions on Friday. Cinemas reopened this weekend across Quebec and parts of Ontario, while Nova Scotia is closing them for at least a month, and other provinces have no plans to reopen them yet. And of course, Quebec is letting loose with Spring Break this week (which Ontario has pushed back into April).


Concerned PHOs: BC’s PHO, Bonnie Henry, is refusing to lift restrictions – despite receiving death threats– in view of rising cases and the imminent threat of variants. NL’s CMOH warns that “now is not the time” to relax restrictions, with the UK variant starting to spread. The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association is asking Alberta to delay the move to step 2 of its reopening plan, and to close bars and restaurants, rather than reopening banquet halls and conference centres. “We’re not out of the woods by any means, I hope nobody thinks that… We’re hoping now we can just tread water until this thing at least dissipates.”


Reimposing Lockdowns: Auckland NZ began its second lockdown within a month yesterday, with the identification of 13 cases of the UK variant. France ordered a weekend lockdown in the Dunkirk area as nationwide new cases hit their highest levels since November. (They have been resisting lockdowns, depending instead on a curfew in place since Dec 15.) Sweden has imposed new restrictions on shops and restaurants, effective today, over concerns of a third wave. PEI imposed a “circuit-breaker” lockdown yesterday, with cases doubling to 13, all patients in their 20s. Halifax NS tightened restrictions Saturday morning, while Thunder Bay and Simcoe-Muskoka moved into lockdown at midnight last night.


Slow Vaccine Progress: So far, Canada has administered ~4.6 doses for every 100 people – far less than the US (20.5), UK (29) or Israel (86.9). (The US achieved 50M vaccinations last week.) Albertans were invited to book their shots last Wednesday – and the website promptly crashed. Ontario won’t even get its immunization portal up and running until mid-March, when it will start vaccinating octogenarians. (Those of us under age 60 will be waiting until at least August.)


Mandatory Shots on Campus: Trinity College, a residential college affiliated with uMelbourne, is perhaps the first PSE in the world to announce that all 380 students living in residence will be required to be vaccinatedagainst COVID19. (Staff will be exempt from the requirement.) This will be a big question for most CdnPSE administrations this Fall.


First Dose First? On the upside, there is growing evidence that some COVID19 vaccines not only grant significant immunity but also reduce virus transmission after just a single dose. (Aside from the J&J vaccine, which is the only one designed for single-dose use.) And a “first dose first” strategy could see the population with partial protection even earlier than planned (although the risk of more mutations due to suboptimal immunity is also a concern). So far, Ontario has spaced out second doses by 42 days, and Quebec by 90 days.


More Vaccines: Shipments of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to Canada are finally starting to pick up, and Ottawa expects 29M doses by the end of June. Moreover, on Friday Health Canada approved the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccine. Although it is only 62% effective at preventing COVID19 (compared to 94% with Modern or Pfizer’s vaccines) it does prevent serious illness, hospitalization or death. We can expect 20M doses from AZ between April and September, 2M doses of the Serum Institute of India’s version between March and May (starting Wednesday), and 1.9M doses from the COVAX system by the end of June. (That totals 53M doses by September, if all goes well – enough to give 70% of Canadians 2 doses each.) Health Canada is also still reviewing vaccine candidates from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. (The US FDA approved the J&J vaccineon Saturday.)


Spring is Coming: As the days get longer and a “warmer than average” spring approaches, the dropping infection curve and vaccine rollouts may well mean “a better summer is in sight” – so long as we don’t drop our guard and allow the variants to overwhelm our healthcare system first. “We just need to pick our way carefully through the minefield for these next few weeks, so we don’t have another wave,” says uToronto epidemiologist David Fisman. CBC


“We just need to pick our way carefully through the minefield for these next few weeks, so we don’t have another wave.”David Fisman, Epidemiologist, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto


“If we are very careful, we can imagine a much better summer, and a better summer is the payoff from the stay at home order and the vaccinations. But if we let up, we will with little doubt lose the gains that we’ve worked so hard for.”Adalsteinn Brown, Co-chair, Ontario COVID19 Science Advisory Table



COVID on Campus

Since Friday’s summary, there has been a major outbreak in Peterborough. (See my master spreadsheet for a running tally of cases in CdnPSE since Sept 2020.)

Fleming College and Trent U students in the 6-building Severn Court student residence complex in Peterborough found themselves in the midst of a COVID19 outbreak on Saturday. The local PHO reports that a “private gathering” on Feb 20 contributed to 23 active cases of COVID19, including 4 students in Trent’s Otonabee College residence and a “variant of concern.” All 200 students living in the complex, and anyone visiting it Feb 20-27, have been ordered to self-isolate. Fleming College has suspended all classes at its Sutherland campus, affecting 700 students. (Previously I had tracked just 2 cases at Trent, and 4 at Fleming, announced since September.)  Global


More Campus Plans

Since my round-up of CdnPSE announcements for summer and fall on Friday, more have come to light…

Brock U now says it is “planning a return to campus for the Fall Term, with classes offered primarily on campus and residence, dining and campus life services returning to normal operations.” Brock will “ensure a Fall Term that prioritizes on-campus experience and is respectful of public health guidelines,” but will also “strive to offer a portion of online and hybrid courses” for students unready to return to campus.  Brock News

U New Brunswick announced last week that, guided by principles of flexibility, accessibility and safety, it is “planning a safe and measured approach to increase in-person classes and on-campus activities in Fall 2021.” Throughout summer and fall, however, UNB is suspending inbound and outbound exchange programs, and temporary foreign work permits for visiting faculty, students and researchers.  UNB

St Lawrence College has announced that its Spring/Summer semester delivery will continue as a mix of alternate delivery and in-person classes. Priority for F2F classes will be health sciences programs, labs and hands-on simulations. “We hope to learn more about whether it will be possible to host larger numbers on our campuses for the Fall 2021 semester in the coming months.”  Education News Canada



J’accuse in Sudbury

Laurentian U’s insolvency continues to ripple through local, academic, labour and finance communities…


Cutting One-Third of Profs?

Sudbury NDP MPP Jamie West warns that Laurentian U’s restructuring will “gut” it, potentially cutting one-third of all faculty and all programs. “Laurentian University is a cornerstone of Northern Ontario,” he said, and the minister “knew 6 months ago” about the looming insolvency. “Why did he do nothing?” West himself wrote to the MCU minister, Ross Romano, in June and July 2020, urging emergency financial support – but received no reply. Laurentian reportedly requested $100M on Dec 10, with half of the funds to go toward “termination and severance payments.” MCU parliamentary assistant David Piccini said that, because the matter is now before the courts, it would be “inappropriate” to comment further.  Timmins Press


Laissez-Faire Government?

Faculty and students at Laurentian “feel we have been abandoned by the Ontario government,” and have met with dozens of MPPs to demand the province “take responsibility for the underfunding of Laurentian” and provide the resources to “secure its future.” Not surprisingly, the MCU told OCUFA that it “intends to wait until after the university has been dramatically restructured… to determine its next steps.” OCUFA says “It is astounding that [MCU minister Romano] knew that Laurentian was heading toward the edge of a fiscal cliff and chose to do nothing. It is shocking that even now, when a public university is in free fall, he continues to stand by and watch.”  Sudbury Star


Not surprisingly, the City of Greater Sudbury city council has voted unanimously to write the Premier and MCU to urge funding “to stabilize Laurentian University’s operations.”  CBC


French Self-Governance?

130 Francophone (and “Francophile”) profs at Laurentian say French-language programming should be protected, in part because the university receives $12M annually from Canadian Heritage’s Official Languages in Education program. They do suggest, though, that “a more transparent and decentralized governance structure in which French-language university programs can be run by Francophones, for Francophones, will allow us all to avoid a repeat of the deplorable situation in which Laurentian University is presently mired.” Likewise, a former VP of the Assembly of Francophone Ontario has written the university to suggest it drop its Francophone programming altogether, and instead work with a “new, northern, multi-campus Francophone institution.” (158 students and 2 professors in the Italian Studies program are understandably nervous, launching a petition and rallying the Italian community.)


Federated Universities

Laurentian recently revised the funding model for its federated universities (Thorneloe, Huntington and uSudbury) in 2020, resulting in funding cuts – but the CCAA filing makes it clear, repeatedly, that renegotiating those agreements will be part of LU’s restructuring. Laurentian’s FAQs say it will “re-evaluate the federated universities model in such a way that recognizes and preserves their historic significance while ensuring that the relationship reflects the current financial realities of each organization.” The federated universities own buildings and lease campus land from LU. They do not recruit or register their own students, nor grant their own degrees. All provincial funding has flowed through LU. uSudbury has emphasized that it is “a separate legal entity that manages its own financial and human resources, and we have not filed for creditor protection.”



Stay tuned – tomorrow we’ll look at some examples of struggling US institutions that mirror what is happening in Sudbury, and consider the ethical responsibilities of campus leaders in tough times…




uConn (no, not Yukon) has produced some wonderful videos over the years, featuring their cuddly husky mascot, Jonathan. (He’s won several of my Holiday Video roundups.) So on this March Monday, I thought perhaps you could use a smile…


Welcome to #uConnNation

On Saturday, the University of Connecticut released a fun 1-min congratulations video for accepted applicants (what those in recruitment marketing call a “conversion” tactic). Jonathan the husky receives his acceptance email, immediately Zooms with his friends, and then celebrates the fact he’s #uConnBound with what I assume is his parent?  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading.  Let me know if you’ve spotted something cool or thought-provoking, at your campus or elsewhere.

Hope your week is off to a great start – and watch your step in that minefield!



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