Friday, February 4, 2022 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, (barely – for some of you at least), and TGIF!
It’s also apparently World Cancer Day, Monro Day (if you’re at Dalhousie), and a national day for sweaters, stuffed mushrooms, and homemade soup. (Paradoxically, it’s also both “National Wear Red Day” and “National Working Naked Day” – please don’t tell me if you’re observing that one!)
Yesterday I described how the pandemic has turned us all into groundhogs of a sort, waiting out a long COVID winter huddled in our burrows, desperate for a forecast that will allow us to venture forth safely again.
Over the past few weeks, CdnPSE has indeed been tentatively emerging, reopening our campuses and classrooms, and daring to hope for a sunnier spring. We’re about halfway reopened – I picture Winnie the Pooh stuck in Rabbit’s doorway. And on both sides of that door, students are protesting that the return to campus is both too fast, and too slow…
“We’ve been at this for 22 months and it sucks. It sucks big time.” – Darcy Marciniuk, assoc VP research, uSaskatchewan
About 2 weeks ago, I summed up CdnPSE’s reopening plans for the Winter 2022 term – and traced how they abruptly changed course, sometimes repeatedly, in December and early January. (See Jan 24’s “Disappointed Groundhogs.”) At that point, about 27% of CdnPSEs were back to fully F2F classes, and now…
We’re Halfway Back
As of Monday (Feb 7), 53% of my CdnPSE list (79 of 148 institutions) will be pretty much back to fully F2F instruction again (including every BCpse, many smaller ABpses, almost all SKpses, some rural MBpses, many ONpses, and almost all of QC, NB and NS pses).
Playing It Safe
Many Alberta institutions have extended largely remote instruction until the end of February, as have 3 universities in Winnipeg, many Ontario colleges, and quite a few institutions in eastern Canada. Notably, 7 institutions have extended blended or virtual delivery through to the end of the Winter term.
Most of those decisions were already set 2 weeks ago, but I’ve reviewed scores of updates and announcements, and identified 10 CdnPSEs that have changed or clarified their previous plans. (You can see everything on my updated Winter 2022 Google sheet, with colour-coded plans week-by-week.) Most have backpedalled a bit…
Manitoba is Mixed
Although 3 universities in Winnipeg made announcements, 2 extended remote learning through to the end of term, while 1 is gearing up for a gradual return…
uWinnipeg announced on Monday that it was extending remote learning for most classes until the end of the Winter term, instead of the Feb reading week as announced Dec 16. (In recent surveys, 80% of students and 70% of employees indicated they preferred to remain remote.) UW hopes in-person classes can resume for the Spring term in May.
uSt Boniface likewise has ruled out a full return this term, but it may consider some F2F courses in key programs starting Feb 28, “if conditions allow.”
uManitoba announced on Groundhog Day that it would resume “partial in-person teaching and learning” for “priority” activities, for the second half of Winter term, beginning Feb 28. (Previously no plan past Feb 28 had been announced.) Details by course will be announced by Feb 11, and the course drop deadline will be extended.
“It’s been almost two years now that we’ve been dealing with these seemingly endless lockdowns and restrictions… I don’t believe that that adjustment period should be right in the middle of a term.” – Brayden Burak, first-year comp sci student, uManitoba
ON Colleges Stay Online
4 Ontario colleges announced last week that they will extend the current, largely virtual delivery mode until end of term, to provide consistency to students – many of whom voted overwhelmingly in favour. Nipissing U, on the other hand, appears to have raised its ambitions for a gradual return to campus this month…
Algonquin College president Claude Brulé announced last Friday that “most courses that are currently virtual will continue in that fashion for the second half of the winter term,” although “some” will move to F2F. A recent survey found that “the vast majority of students would prefer to remain virtual or hybrid for the remainder of the winter term.” Algonquin plans to revert to F2F learning for the Spring term.
“Many of us are struggling right now. The weather is extremely cold… and the pandemic is persistent, at times appearing like it will never end. There is light at the end of the tunnel – longer days and warmer weather are around the corner.” – Claude Brulé, president, Algonquin College
Canadore College announced last week that, instead of returning to a blended approach next week, “the current academic delivery model will remain in place until the end of the Winter 2022 semester” in April, “in order to ensure consistency for our students.”
Collège Boréal announced Jan 26 an “extended intervention plan” for remote learning delivery until the end of semester, with some exceptions. (Previous announcements left anything after Jan 28 to be determined.)
Conestoga College announced last week that it would be taking a phased approach to the return to campus (which I had previously indicated would be fully F2F this week). “Essential” in-person learning activities will resume Jan 31, and more programs F2F on Feb 7. “It is anticipated that all programs designated as on-campus or hybrid will include in-person learning experiences by March 7.”
Nipissing U announced last week that it would move to “phase 3” of its return to campus effective Jan 31, with “expanded campus operations” and some in-person classes. (I’m interpreting this as a shift from blended delivery to a gradual return to campus.)
Ontario U Athletics announced last week that it would comply with the province’s direction and push back the return to training by a few more days, to Jan 31. Regular season games will resume Feb 9. OCAA confirmed that college athletics will follow the same timelines. (Student athletes have been petitioning for the same “elite amateur status” that allowed other Ontario leagues to train and play anyway.)
2 universities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick seem to be easing off their planned return to in-person instruction somewhat, apparently in response to faculty concerns…
Mount Allison U postponed its return to in-person instruction by another week (just one week after doing so) to Feb 7, to provide “some additional lead time” for students and employees to “adjust.”
MSVU interim president Ramona Lumpkin wrote last week that, “following consultation with faculty and consideration of multiple factors, some classes will remain online or adopt a blended approach” after the return to campus Jan 31. (I’m interpreting this as a shift from fully F2F to “Gradual.”)
“In many ways, it feels like we are in the most complex phase of the pandemic yet; we are in the midst of both a shift to COVID19 being a part of our ‘new normal’ and ongoing concern for what the future holds. As we have done throughout the past two years, we will continue to closely monitor Public Health advice and adjust our sails as required.” – Ramona Lumpkin, interim president, Mount St Vincent U
2 weeks ago (“You Can’t Please Everybody”) student protests and petitions seemed to be pretty much evenly divided between those who were sick of online learning, and those afraid of a return to campus. (At Western, there were 2 diametrically opposed petitions with 3,500 signatures each.) But in the 2 weeks since, as half of CdnPSE has reopened classrooms, the voices of those opposed to that return have grown even louder, while presumably the others are just happy to be back. (Although, as noted above, several Ontario colleges were surprised that student surveys were overwhelmingly in favour of remaining online through the end of term.)
From coast to coast, students seem to be kicking and screaming in protest at being dragged out of their burrows (to stretch the metaphor one last time)…
Resistance at Memorial
You may recall from 2 weeks ago, that 740 Memorial U students signed a petition calling for in-person labs to pivot back online (along with most lecture classes), out of concern for their own personal safety. Immunocompromised students claim they’re being forced to choose between their safety and their education, while the faculty association has requested a delay until Feb 28. Classes under 100 students returned to in-class instruction this week, while some students have threatened walkouts on social media, and 72% of faculty say measures are insufficient to feel safe on campus. Provost Florentine Strzelczyk acknowledged last week the many feelings expressed by students and employees about the return to campus this week, “from apprehension and concern to relief and excitement, and all that falls in the middle.” She emphasized that “nearly two years into the pandemic, it is imperative that we do everything we can to provide students with fulfilling in-person learning opportunities on all our campuses to meet educational outcomes.”
“Front-line workers… have for 2 years been forced into situations by the administration to repeatedly turn on a dime to switch the ways they do their teaching and do their research.” – Josh Lepawsky, MUNFA president
Just last month, New Brunswick saw record levels of COVID19 hospitalizations and deaths due to the Omicron wave. Now, as NBpses return to classrooms, many students are apprehensive. About 350 students from St Thomas U, UNB and NBCC are petitioning for a delay in the return. (Proof of vaccination is not required at UNB.) In Nova Scotia, an “overwhelming majority” of Acadia U students want hybrid learning options for the rest of the Winter semester. Acadia leaves it up to individual profs to accommodate students, but faculty contracts require them to be in class. (Labour negotiations at Acadia are heated right now – more about that next week!)
Masking in Montréal
Protests in Montréal were already in swing 2 weeks ago, at several CEGEPs, Concordia, and McGill, where social work students had voted to strike. Since then, student unions at Concordia have reportedly spent “thousands of dollars” on N95 masks for immunocompromised students. (Their Jan survey found 78% of students “didn’t feel ready” to return, and 88% favoured upgrading masks on campus.) Concordia’s faculty want to decide individually how to continue teaching, and those with “specific medical concerns” have been permitted to continue teaching remotely. But CUFA’s priority will be ensuring faculty have “the right to choose” whether or not to wear a mask at all. At uMontréal, profs will be allowed to remove their masks so long as they maintain 2m distancing: “giving a 3-hour lecture with a mask on was an irritant for many of you.” (UM appears to be interpreting the PHO’s guidance that educators can remove masks “for the shortest possible period, the time to communicate,” to mean up to a full 3-hour lecture.) UM students are petitioning for a hybrid option. At McGill, profs have been required to stay masked since rules were tightened in mid-Dec. Undergrad Social Work students are boycotting in-person classes, and students in Law and Arts are reportedly considering joining them. (McGill is planning the fastest return to campus of all the U15, which the student society calls “reckless.”)
“They know there’s going to be a lot of absenteeism this semester. I think that really shows that they know what is going to happen. They know that classes are going to be superspreader events, and they are still dismissing it.” – Hannah Jamet-Lange, Concordia Student Union
“We just don’t think it’s worth it when we have the infrastructure, we’ve had it for the past year, to be online.” – Bree Stuart, TA/RA union president, Concordia U
Urging Options in Ontario
More than any other province, Ontario PSEs are a patchwork quilt (in my Google sheet) of fully F2F, blended, gradually returning or staying largely online for the rest of the term. As a result, students are conflicted, as they contrast their own campus policies with those of neighbouring institutions. You may recall that, 2 weeks ago, student petitions urging hybrid learning options were in the news at uOttawa, uToronto Mississauga, Western U and St Clair College – but there were also opposing petitions urging a return to campus. Presidents like Laurentian’s Robert Haché have been attempting a delicate balancing act, acknowledging that “although many are eager to return, there is also a significant portion of our community that are hesitant and would prefer to remain remote a little longer,” and assuring the campus that PHO guidance would ensure health and safety.
Brock U students were both “scared” and “excited,” questioning safety protocols and enforcement. (Everyone on campus must be “fully vaxxed,” but only students living in residence will be required to have a 3rd booster shot. Medical-grade masks are required for all employees.) 2 student petitions called for a delay, or for hybrid options, and attracted more than 1,500 signatures. “No social distancing is really scary because that’s something that’s been drilled in our minds for the past year and a half,” observed one Psych student.
“A lot of people feel uncomfortable with their health being potentially left up to the stranger sitting beside them in the lecture hall… I don’t understand why we can’t just keep doing them online until it’s safer.” – Sara Hesse, 4th-year physics major, Brock U
Lakehead U Orillia’s student union is petitioning for a delay in the return to classrooms, and more support for students via remote learning options, better masks, access to COVID19 tests and more stringent protocols.
Queen’s U principal Patrick Deane wrote the campus community last Friday to be “definitive” that in-person instruction will resume Feb 28 as planned. He reflected on his goal to keep the institution “whole,” but observed that “it is clear that our community will not emerge unscathed and we will be addressing the impact of this pandemic long after the immediate threat to our health has lessened.”
Ryerson U students and staff have been writing open letters urging a virtual learning option for the remaining 2 months of the semester, after the full return planned for Feb 28. (For students who moved out of town, “where are they going to find a lease for 2 months?”) More than 11,000 have signed a student petition, and some have expressed concerns about the hours they will spend commuting in crowded subways and downtown districts. Occupational and Public Health faculty have publicly called for smaller class sizes and more detailed monitoring and reporting on indoor air quality.
“I don’t really have hope that everything is going to return, and if in the event that it does return, I just feel like things are just going to be shut down again.” – Breanna Reid-Clarke, politics student, Ryerson U
uToronto’s student union has criticized the lateness of the administration’s decision for a return to F2F classes in February, and the impact of that delayed announcement on student “mental health, finances, travel plans, residence applications and academics.” (These “untimely announcements” have been particularly challenging for international students.) Petitions have been calling for hybrid options. UTSU wants extensions of academic and financial deadlines for refunds, more PPE and testing, and options to drop Fall semester courses due to exam disruptions. By next week, 30% of uToronto Scarborough courses will be F2F, and the remainder will return Feb 28 – although 20% are being offered fully online for the whole term.
Trent U students (at least, 3,400 of them) are petitioning to move the Winter semester back online, but the administration has also heard from many students eager for the full campus experience to return.
uWaterloo has been facing a “backlash” from grad students, faculty and staff associations this week, over the “immediate increased risk of illness, hospitalization, and possibly death” due to the planned return to campus. In response to criticisms about inadequate consultation, UW hosted a President’s Forum this week to discuss planning processes and concerns. UW’s president and provost reassured the campus community on Monday that regional and provincial PHOs support the gradual return to work and activities through Feb to mid-Mar, and that 99% of people coming to campus are fully vaxxed. They acknowledged that many have concerns, judging by “letters, meetings, phone calls and our recent employee survey,” but that the goal throughout the pandemic has been “to return to more in-person experiences as soon as the public health conditions allow,” and that “We believe that time is finally here.” The decision, they add, must be made centrally by administration, not by individual professors.
“We have endeavoured from the very beginning of the pandemic to make clear our goal is to return to more in-person experiences as soon as the public health conditions allow. We believe that time is finally here.” – Vivek Goel and James Rush, president and provost, uWaterloo
“The University should not be weighing equally the people for whom the pandemic has been easy against the people for whom it’s been hard. We need to be listening to and helping the people who are struggling.” – uWaterloo Faculty Association
Some students at uManitoba are reportedly uncomfortable about the planned gradual return to campus, beginning Feb 28. “It might just be a little too early for this,” says one, who speculates that some COVID19-positive students might still attend classes if no remote options are available. He claims informal polls have shown that 70-85% of students want to remain online.
uSaskatchewan announced Tuesday that its return to campus would proceed Feb 7 as planned – immediately prompting “mixed feelings” among students, while Omicron case counts are still high in the province: “It’s not a wise decision to shove 20,000 students into one campus.” While some are excited to be returning to campus, others will be dropping courses and delaying graduation. uSask mandates 2 doses of vaccine on campus, and it is “an expectation” that everyone get a booster shot when they are eligible. “We hope that we’ll never have to come to a point where we’ll have to mandate that, but this is something that is always under consideration.”
“Furious” in Alberta
Quite a few Alberta institutions have postponed the return to classes until March, frustrating students on both sides of the issue. I told you 2 weeks ago that 2,000 students at uLethbridge were objecting to returning for just 5 weeks of in-person instruction for the semester. Students at St Mary’s U launched a petition last week, opposing the institution’s plans to return to campus almost a month earlier than larger Calgary PSEs. The students want to see better masking enforcement, HEPA filters in classrooms, improved distancing, and continued vax/test verification. The administration says “they’re tired of COVID, they’re stressed and they want reassurance.”
uAlberta students have been sharply divided on the return to campus since January. An early survey found that 24% of students were not comfortable returning to campus at all this semester – although the other 76% wanted to get back to class by February. The UofA’s student union says students are “furious” with the “incredibly poor quality” of online learning right now, which they say is “substantially worse than it had to be” and worse than it was last year: 42% report their profs refuse to record lectures, 37% have concerns with unauthorized use of online proctoring, and 38% have unstable internet access from home. 25% of UA students are being required to return to Edmonton to write a mid-term exam, before the campus has even reopened.
“I think this is a public-health decision. Public opinion should be a factor, but public-health experts should make the call.” – Rowan Ley, president, uAlberta student union
Mobilizing in BC
British Columbia’s PHO, Bonnie Henry, has been adamant that BCpses return to campus to bring an end to the serious mental health repercussions of remote instruction, but students across the province are directly contradicting her. 2 weeks ago, some 2,400 Douglas College students petitioned (unsuccessfully) against a Jan 10th return to campus, as did 3,500 BCIT students and 1,300 Langara College Nursing students. Since then, 10 student associations have written the province demanding stricter health guidelines and more options for online learning – and have reportedly gained support from other students across BC. uVic students are “excited but also a bit nervous,” and those with health concerns are urging hybrid options – but the faculty association and administration have resisted. Students at the private Vancouver College of Dental Hygiene are calling for a return to online classes, instead of crowded “shoulder-to-shoulder” lectures (sometimes delivered by a COVID-positive prof remotely from home). The Alma Mater Society at UBC has been pushing for hybrid learning options, and has purchased 65,000 KN95 masks for students, since “we’re not getting that sense of clarity from the university.”
“We’re fairly confident our community is as safe as it could be. I don’t think it’s possible to guarantee 100% protection, but what we have in place is the best that we can do.” – Matthew Ramsay, director of university affairs, UBC
Rock vs Hard Place
The epicentre of student protests in BC has been Simon Fraser U, where both students and faculty reportedly fear reprisals if they speak out publicly. 2 weeks ago, 4,300+ students were petitioning for more remote options, “scared and uneasy” about returning to classrooms with the Omicron variant spreading. Some SFU profs say they remain confused by university guidance about how to handle COVID19 absences. (Others are outraged that their names were fraudulently added to the student petition without their knowledge.) Last week, SFU students staged a walkout to demand an extension of remote learning, permanent hybrid options, free N95 masks and rapid tests, and extended deadlines for tuition and course withdrawals. (The Student Society reports that 50% of students surveyed wanted remote learning, and 28% wanted hybrid.) Ultimately, about 40 students gathered outdoors to march to the administration building last Monday. SFU provost Catherine Dauvergne acknowledges “a wide range of opinions and preferences amongst our community,” but emphasizes that in-person academic settings “are not considered close-contact environments for the transmission of COVID19, based on the layers of protection that are in place.”
Phew! Apologies that turned out to be a bit longer (and later) than I anticipated. Hopefully it’s a helpful overview of the protests and tensions across CdnPSE campuses right now, at least so far as the issue of returning to campus is concerned.
The other growing tension has been with faculty and staff labour unions, contract negotiations and strike votes. More on that next week!
Since the new year began, there have been many new CdnPSE campaigns and videos released. One you need to see, ICYMI, is an inspiring, out-of-this-world brand campaign from my grad alma mater…
uToronto has finally replaced its “Boundless” brand positioning, after more than a decade, with a new “Defy Gravity” platform, which will inform recruitment marketing and fundraising campaigns across the institution for years to come. The slogan is shorthand for UofT’s inclusive community-building efforts, and the ways UofT works together to overcome obstacles, limits, and expectations to create meaningful change. An alumni engagement campaign launched in December, and digital, social, and out-of-home ads have begun appearing across the GTA. A 2-min widescreen vid, “Together, We can Defy Gravity” (above), highlights the accomplishments of UofT alumni through almost 200 years, and a series of research and social “firsts.” The campaign has also been profiled in Strategy magazine. YouTube | Strategy
As always, thanks for reading!
Whether you’re back on campus, still working from home, or enjoying a snow day because of this crazy Canadian winter, stay safe and warm this weekend!
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