OCUFA alarmed by last-minute fall guidelines for postsecondary education that ignore science, compromise health and safety

Toronto, Sept. 01, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- OCUFA’s faculty, academic librarians, and other academic professionals are looking forward to the start of the new academic year, but health and safety must remain the number one priority as COVID-19 cases rise and Ontario enters the fourth wave. With less than a week before the fall term begins, the inadequate guidelines introduced at the last minute by the Ontario government are deeply concerning, as they will increase the exposure risks to faculty, staff, and students.

The government’s Postsecondary Education Health Measures Framework for Fall 2021 will exempt most postsecondary education institutions, including Ontario universities, from capacity limits and distancing measures that have been implemented across the province at the recommendation of public and occupational health authorities. Despite new mandatory vaccination policies, these exemptions run counter to the scientific consensus and will unnecessarily increase risk for students, faculty, and staff.

As cases of the Delta variant continue to rise, mandating vaccination policies is only one of many safeguards needed to ensure a safer return to campus. Limits on class sizes, physical distancing measures, and improved ventilation and air-quality monitoring are among numerous other safeguards that must be in place to protect members of the campus community. Ensuring these measures are implemented requires firm provincial leadership and investment in the case of infrastructure improvements. The government’s exemptions for  capacity limits and distancing rules and the fact that it could not even pull together health guidelines until a few days before fall classes are set to begin, is of significant concern to academic staff at Ontario’s universities.

Instead of allowing universities to recklessly increase class capacity limits, the provincial government should compel university administrations to engage with and take guidance from Joint Health and Safety Committees on campus, many of which have been bypassed since the pandemic started. The comprehensive Health and Safety Checklist for University Re-opening developed by public health experts at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto should be consulted for guidance on specific, measurable, and accountable actions to inform provincial guidelines for university administrations and to make campuses safer in the midst of the pandemic.

As much as faculty, students, and university administrators would like this pandemic to be over, it is not. As faculty, academic librarians, and students begin a second year of pandemic education, it is far past time for the province to establish clear guidelines that acknowledge the latest science on COVID-19 and its airborne nature. That is the only way to protect those who might be returning to campus and ensure a safer September.

Founded in 1964, OCUFA represents 17,000 professors and academic librarians in 30 faculty associations across Ontario. It is committed to enhancing the quality of higher education in Ontario and recognizing the outstanding contributions of its members towards creating a world-class university system. For more information, please visit the OCUFA website at www.ocufa.on.ca.



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