On January 24, 2022, MUN Faculty Association (MUNFA) sent an information bulletin to their members with the subject “MUNFA Requests to Postpone the Return to In-Person Teaching.”
MUNFA states that since January 19th, 2022, when the university administration announced their decision that all classes with an enrollment of 99 or fewer students would return to in-person teaching on January 31, an overwhelming number of Academic Staff Members (ASMs) contacted the MUNFA Office with concerns.
According to MUNFA, they have received a clear message that “ASMs do not support the blanket mandate for students and ASMs to return on January 31, especially given the lack of clear information from the administration on necessary health and safety measures, plans for communicating on-campus COVID exposures, and the inevitable disruptions caused to learning when students/instructors are required to self-isolate.”
On January 24, 2022, the MUNFA Executive contacted the senior administration to request that the return to in-person teaching be delayed until after the Winter break on February 28. Alternatively, MUNFA states that giving instructors the flexibility to decide to continue to deliver their courses remotely would also be an acceptable option.
MUNFA states that the delay in the return to in-person classes would allow more students, faculty, and staff to receive their vaccination and/or booster shot and to obtain the increased immunity, enable ASMs to obtain medical advice for their specific situations, allow students to return and abide by self-isolation requirements which is of particular concern for students living outside of province or country, and for clear pandemic guidelines to be developed with meaningful input from students, faculty, and staff.
On January 20, 2022, MUNFA sent an information bulletin to their members with the subject “Concerns Regarding the Return to In-Person Teaching.” They state that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Faculty have expressed concerns over the senior administrations’ pandemic response due to a lack of adequate health and safety information, unclear/confusing rationale for decisions being made, and an unwillingness to meaningfully consider input from members of the university community.
MUNFA provided the following list of concerns that they heard from ASMs and communicated to the administration:
• The impact on students and instructors of quickly shifting course delivery methods and evaluations, and a lack of supports for the effective delivery of evaluations.
• The possibility of on-campus exposures, specifically the short and long-term health risks for those exposed, and the impact of disruptions in learning when students or instructors are required to self-isolate.
• The lack of clear guidelines/protocols on how on-campus exposures will be communicated to the University community. Given the changes to testing requirement for the province, we fear the administration will not communicate if/when there are on-campus exposures.
• The inability to maintain required social distancing in classrooms, labs, and common spaces on campus. Given Memorial’s current infrastructure, we question whether it is possible to adhere to even the minimum density requirements in all spaces as outlined in the current public health guidelines.
• The need for proper assessment of our ventilation systems. Faculty concerns about ventilation have been dismissed by administration throughout the pandemic, frequently being told that ventilation is one of the least important controls to prevent the spread of COVID. MUNFA was informed on January 19th, 2022 that the administration is only now conducting a proper assessment of ventilation in classrooms on the St. John’s campus and that 7 spaces have been deemed unusable until ventilation upgrades can occur.
• The need for the University to provide effective masks to all students, faculty, and staff required to be on campus, and clear communication on the proper use of these masks.
• A lack of compassionate accommodations for faculty who are high-risk, or have family members who are high-risk.
MUNFA is encouraging ASMs to communicate their support for this request to President Vianne Timmons (firstname.lastname@example.org), Provost Florentine Strzelczyk (email@example.com), Chief Risk Officer Greg McDougall (firstname.lastname@example.org), and their administrative head, and to copy email@example.com.
MUNFA also states that additional questions/concerns can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will provide further updates as information becomes available.
See MUNFA’s information bulletins below:
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.