July 29/21 – The sudden announcement that Ontario colleges and universities can go back to classroom teaching this fall without physical restrictions or limits on class sizes has caught many faculty by surprise. And while some colleges are taking an aggressive stance on returning to the classroom, not all are rolling out more on-campus teaching this fall, nor are all colleges making vaccinations an “expectation” for employees and students. Your OPSEU Divisional Executive and the Bargaining Team have a number concerns about the health and safety of members in returning to work in the fall:
Moving teaching from online to in-class and/or to hybrid delivery requires time and energy. Faculty have been pivoting on a dime for a year and a half. Many are tired and burning out and yet we have:
- faculty workloads being maxed out in nearly every college;
- faculty trying to teach remotely without adequate technological support;
- faculty teaching to student class sizes that cannot be accommodated in a classroom;
- faculty trying to organize and supervise placements without adequate time assigned on their SWF.
OPSEU also remains entirely unclear what is intended by the statement in the government’s fall announcement that the updated Postsecondary Education Public Health Measures Framework will include “availability of mental health supports”. We need time to do this job. We need time to ensure we are able to bring our students with us. Retention rates are decreasing while mental health concerns are increasing. We care about our students and their success. To reach them, to both teach and counsel, we need the time required to reshape our learning and counselling contexts and to provide adequate support.
Meanwhile, almost every college has posted a surplus for the past year, and many continue to hire administrators while laying off part-time support staff and reducing numbers of contract faculty. They can afford to temporarily reduce workloads to ensure faculty, staff, and student health and safety is a priority, while we put together courses/counselling services that ensure success and quality for our students and while we create a new sense of much needed normalcy on our campuses.
2) Continuity of Education Plans
The colleges and the ministry need to include faculty voices at all return-to-campus planning tables. Instead, the faculty union’s role has been minimized in almost every college and ignored by the ministry. Our job is to keep faculty and student health and safety and quality education central to all discussions, and we have a vital role to play in ensuring that all plans can be enacted safely in our classrooms, labs, libraries and counselling spaces. The Locals should have access to all information to ensure health and safety, including risk assessments, contingency plans and information about outbreaks. Rest assured, pandemic language is another key area for this round of bargaining.
3) Vaccinations and Returning to Campus
In the wake of Seneca’s decision to roll out mandatory vaccinations, we see some colleges setting the stage that vaccinations are an expectation of all employees returning to campus. We are unsure of the legal status of this approach, or of how vaccinations of employees and students will be monitored or policed at individual colleges. We do know that faculty should not be placed in the position of checking or surveilling students’ or colleagues’ vaccination status. We are also unsure of what accommodations will be made for those who aren’t vaccinated. We will await information from the College Employer Council and individual colleges in this regard.
4) International Travel and Quarantine
Those who will be returning to campus who have travelled outside of the country, but who are also vaccinated, are no longer required to be quarantined for 14 days. Given the variants that are circulating, we are concerned about the risk that this may pose to faculty and students alike. We are further unclear how the colleges will monitor and enforce the quarantining expectation for those travelling but not vaccinated. Stay tuned and we will keep you updated as quickly as we can.