Eduvation Blog

Omicron, Outbreaks, Optimism and Philanthropy

Good morning, whether you’re celebrating Mousse or Mason Jars today!

Anybody remotely connected with academic institutions has an inbox full of reminders from their alma maters that today is also “Giving Tuesday” (and in the US, “National Day of Giving”, after the consumer orgy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday).

As promised, today I want to look at more CdnPSE announcements about the Winter 2022 term. Although all pre-date the emergence of the Omicron variant…



Pandemic Postscript

I’m keeping an eye open for breaking news regarding COVID19 B.1.1.529, the new Omicron variant out of southern Africa. (See yesterday’s “A Pandemic Punch in the Gut” for the whole story so far.) You should know…


Spreading Quickly Worldwide

As you might expect, confirmed cases of the Omicron variant are coming in worldwide. On Monday, Scotland reported 6 confirmed cases. Portugal’s Belenenses soccer team has 13 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, after just one player visited South Africa. (All close contacts of the 13 players have been ordered into quarantine.) NIH director Francis Collins believes Omicron is indeed more infectious than Delta, based on the speed with which it is spreading. (It also appears more likely to reinfect those who have recovered, or been fully vaccinated.)  CTV


More Omicron in Ontario

Ontario confirmed 2 cases in Ottawa on Sunday, and is investigating 4 other suspected cases in Ottawa and Hamilton. In all, 375 people have entered Canada from countries of concern in the past 2 weeks – but the first 2 cases came from another African country altogether. CMOH Kieran Moore is urging mandatory testing of allinbound passengers from any country, and observed that, like Delta, it could take Omicron 3-4 months to become the dominant strain in Canada, if in fact it is more infectious. (That would be just in time for March.)  CTV  |  Globe & Mail


Omicron Cases in Canada

Unsurprisingly, cases of the Omicron variant are now being detected elsewhere in Canada too. Quebecannounced its first case, in a woman who recently travelled to Nigeria. (115 other travellers arriving in Quebec from designated countries have been asked to self-isolate and undergo PCR testing – although genomic sequencing will take 2 weeks.) In Alberta there are still no confirmed cases of Omicron, but 156 travellers from southern Africa are in quarantine, and the province has recommended PCR testing for their close contacts.


Misinformation Spreads Too

Ronny Jackson, the White House physician who raved about Donald Trump’s “excellent” health in 2018, is now raving that Omicron is a Democrat “ruse” to permit mail-in ballots in the 2022 mid-term elections. “Here comes the… Midterm Election Variant!” he tweeted Saturday. (Sigh.) Naturally, physicians and public health experts are outraged, calling Jackson a “former doctor” and an “embarrassment.”  Huffington Post


Fanshawe, Western Outbreaks

Since yesterday, the outbreak at Western U’s Saugeen-Maitland Hall has grown from 5 students to 8, and across town at Fanshawe College, an outbreak has been declared at the Merlin House campus residence, with at least 3 cases involved. “The transmission that has been seen in the Fanshawe and Western outbreaks over the weekend happened largely from social interactions indoors, no masks, social environments.”  Global


Is Omicron Our Way Out?

One Australian journalist speculates that, if Omicron proves to be more infectious but less virulent, it could even signal COVID19’s transition from pandemic to a more benign, endemic disease. (Some virologists believe the common cold is such a descendant from the Russian Flu pandemic in the late 1800s.) It’s too early to say how virulent Omicron is, since most cases in South Africa were among young people who are less likely to be hospitalized, and many travellers with it were fully vaxxed.  Sydney Morning Herald



Winter 2022

I’ve summed up CdnPSE announcements for the Winter 2022 term 3 times this Fall, on Oct 26, Nov 5, and Nov 18. Here’s where we’re at now, with some new updates…  


8 Months of Optimism

Since March, many CdnPSEs have been talking about a “transitional” term this Fall, with the promise of “full reopening” or “near-normal operations” by January 2022. (This was particularly popular among prairie universities like uAlberta, uManitoba, uRegina, uSaskatchewan and uWinnipeg back in the summer.) In late October and early November, with easing PHO restrictions and rising vaccination levels, a flood of announcements began with cautiously optimistic promises of either “more” or “increased” on-campus activity, or in some cases, even a “return to conventional course delivery.” The latest announcements (prior to the emergence of the Omicron variant at least) were sounding even more confident.


Vaguely Better

At this point, the vast majority of CdnPSEs have told staff and students to expect “more” on-campus and in-person activities in the Winter 2022 term. Ambiguous promises include that “every program” will have some in-person components, or that “most” courses will be delivered F2F. (Some have committed to specific levels of in-person instruction, such as 50% at Carleton, 65% of classes at Humber, 80% of classes at uRegina, 70% at uWinnipeg, or 80% at St Lawrence College.)


In the past 2 weeks:

George Brown College plans a “hybrid model” for most programs in the Winter term, with lectures online and hands-on work in-person.  Toronto Star

Ryerson U confirmed it will offer “more in-person classes and on-campus programming, services and supports” as of January. Students who have not confirmed their vax status (whether they plan to come to campus or not) will be deregistered.    Ryerson  |   Global

Wilfrid Laurier U says that “winter term will return to in-person course instruction” as of Jan 4.  Twitter



Complaints on All Sides

While such vague promises have the virtue of not over-promising, they leave students disappointed on both sides: students at Carleton are upset at how many courses will remain online (as is a parent), while students at Conestoga, RRC Polytech, St Lawrence College and uToronto Mississauga are complaining about being forced to return to campus, often necessitating relocating across the country for a few months of class. (Of course, it could be worse: last week New York’s Columbia U settled a class action lawsuit for $12.5M, refunding student ancillary fees from Spring 2020.)


Planning for Options

While many CdnPSEs have said vaguely that online options may continue to be offered, or that instructors may have discretion to opt for remote delivery, a few have explicitly designed their Winter term course calendars to offer courses in remote, hybrid, and F2F formats. (These include Cambrian College,  Durham College, and Seneca College.)


Maintaining the Status Quo

A few particularly cautious CdnPSEs have indicated that the Winter 2022 term will continue much like the Fall 2021 one. (This was particularly popular in Manitoba, which was grappling with a pandemic surge last month.) Brandon U said it was unapologetically “on the more cautious side.” Winnipeg’s Booth UC announced Nov 1 that classes would remain online but some F2F instruction of fully-vaxxed students could take place “at the instructor’s discretion.”

“There’s been enough uncertainty and our goal is to deliver another safe term of learning and working with no surprises.” – David Docherty, President, Brandon U



Ontario Pushes the Return

Last Thursday (just as news of the Omicron variant hit), Ontario’s minister of colleges and universities, Jill Dunlop, declared that “students need to get back in the classroom,” based on the experiences of her own daughters. “Students have been vocal in their frustration and lack of motivation with online learning, and we are listening.” MCU hopes to eliminate uncertainty about the Winter term by “working with” ONpses to “provide support… as they prepare… to safely reopen.”  Toronto Star


Bringing the Hammer Down

Some CdnPSEs have been quite blunt that staff and students should “expect to be on-campus” in January, and make housing plans accordingly. These include Loyalist College, uManitoba, McMaster, Memorial,SaskPolytech, uToronto Mississauga and Scarborough, and York U. (Fleming College is celebrating that it will be back #IRL in January.)


Many of the announcements in the past 2 weeks have been similarly assertive:

Dalhousie U says “we expect the vast majority of courses to be in-person this winter.” Through the Fall term, Dal was “supportive of those faculty and instructors who chose to move courses or course elements online,” but “we believe it is now time to focus our efforts on ensuring a strong and consistent student experience on campus.” Deans will be asking all instructors to deliver courses in-person as scheduled.  Dal

“A robust on-campus learning experience is essential to the success of students in many of our academic programs.”Frank Harvey, Provost, Dalhousie U


uGuelph expects “the majority of classes” to be taught F2F in January, and managers are planning “full implementation” of operations by Jan 10.  uGuelph

uManitoba had 10-15% of students learning F2F this Fall, but announced Friday a return to in-person working and learning at the start of the Winter term. (Just when that term starts hinges on how long the current faculty strike continues.) UofM also intensified its vax mandate: without approved exemptions, unvaxxed students will be de-registered from F2F classes, and unvaxxed employees placed on unpaid leave.  UM Today  |  Global  |  CBC  |  CTV

uSaskatchewan says F2F classes will return “to a more typical state” in January, with stricter vax requirements and larger lecture classes – about 30 of 200+ students, and a “very isolated few” in the 400-500 range.  CBC  |  Saskatoon Star-Phoenix 

uWaterloo is planning “a return to pre-pandemic levels of in-person instruction” as of Jan 4. HR is “working to support units in assessing how they can plan for the future of our work” with more flexibility, but “campuses will remain an important part of our employees’ work life.”  uWaterloo

“As we imagine our work in the future, we know that campuses will remain an important part of our employees’ work life. As a university, there are unique aspects of life on campus that keep us connected and focused on student experiences, research and scholarship, our strategic plan and our academic mission.”Vivek Goel, President, and James Rush, Provost, uWaterloo



Closing Loopholes

Many CdnPSEs have been eliminating the option of COVID19 testing as a replacement for vaccination, including uSaskatchewan and uManitoba (above). Last week, Dalhousie U announced that it will start requiring proof of full vaccination in January, because of the 400 people who opted for twice-weekly testing instead, only 80 have actually complied with the testing requirement. Moreover, 1,350 students who have not yet registered their vax status won’t be allowed to join on-campus classes or activities – and employees will face “disciplinary consequences consistent with the terms of their contracts of employment… up to and including termination.” Some say they are “shocked” that Dal has been so “lax” in enforcing the testing requirement.  CBC  |  Dalhousie  |  Global


Thousands of op-eds and reports have been written over the past year about the “Great Resignation,” as knowledge workers quit their jobs rather than be forced to give up flexibility to return to the office. It’s still unclear just how widespread this challenge will be in CdnPSE – although I know of some cases already. When I get the opportunity, I hope to focus on that topic for a future issue…



Giving Tuesday

CdnPSE has wholeheartedly embraced the celebration of Giving Tuesday today. I can’t do justice to the countless advancement and fundraising efforts across the country, but here is a sampling based on what I’ve seen so far…

Pretty much every institution is asking faculty, staff, alumni, friends and the community to donate on Giving Tuesday, often to support student scholarships, bursaries or success initiatives (at Brock, Centennial, Ontario Tech, or uWindsor for example). Trent U offers pushbutton access for donors to direct their gifts to Excalibur Athletics, specific campuses and colleges, or other funds. Mount Royal U is selling 50/50 raffle tickets, and has more than a dozen “Giving Day Challenges” and a campaign progress bar. Lakehead Ufeatures 17 microfunding projects on their landing page. Dalhousie U is promoting their Food Security project, launched last year on Giving Tuesday with 8 other universities across Nova Scotia.

Most institutions are sharing testimonials from students who depended on scholarship support, or stories of researchers doing valuable work. (In some cases, experts are sharing insights into philanthropy, or “how to make the right donation.”)

Some have been announcing major gifts, while many are promoting matching gift initiatives (such as Cambrian College, Memorial, or Vancouver Island U, for example).

Finally, CdnPSEs are encouraging their communities to further spread the word about Giving Tuesday on social media. Brock U is sharing an “Ambassador Toolkit” with sample posts, graphics specifically for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn, and themed backgrounds for virtual meetings. Memorial U is encouraging donors to share “unselfies” with messages of compassion.

uVictoria allows donors to send “Giving Gram-alanches” to others who can then direct the donations to a priority fund of their choice, and is hosting “Sprinkle Tuesdays” all month with prizes to be won. Today, uVic is hosting a Campus Quest treasure hunt, a life-size game of Philanthr-opoly, and coffee and cupcake fundraisers on campus.




As usual, I’m writing about a one-day event the night before, so of course many CdnPSE videos about #GivingTuesday won’t be released until shortly after you read this. So I’m assembling a Giving Tuesday YouTube playlist for you. (So far, just a half-dozen videos, but I’ll keep my eyes open today.) Here’s one example…



uVictoria has produced many fun videos over the years, for everything from Christmas holidays to April Fool’s Day to yes, Giving Tuesday. (You may recall that last year, I highlighted theatre student Justin Little’s sprinkle cookie recipe video, which is one of the few times you’ll hear “investment income is like baking powder.”) This year Justin is back, cycling around campus to distribute his sprinkle cookies – and to learn how to play Philanthr-opoly with a “magic giant Monopoly board.”  YouTube



As always, thanks for reading!

I’m trying my best to wind down the Insider for December, but I suspect I’ll feel compelled to provide some updates on the pandemic a few more times before we hit 2022.

Meanwhile, stay safe and be well!


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