Faculty must be part of safe-return decision making

The University announced on January 21 that most classes will resume in person on February 7. Many of our members have expressed concerns over the last weeks and months about what is required for a safe return to campus, and about the disruption to pedagogy and significant additional workload involved in switching course delivery mode (again), and we have shared these concerns with the administration.

From the very beginning of the pandemic, FAUW has argued that collegial governance norms require that faculty members be consulted about and involved in decisions regarding pandemic issues such as the timing of a return to in-person instruction.

Despite this, neither the Association leadership nor faculty members collectively have been consulted about returning to campus, this time or any previous time. We have been told that consultation with faculty is happening at the “local” level, but as far as we can tell, this is quite rare. The FAUW Board is extremely frustrated with this lack of consultation, and a lack of recognition that we are raising credible issues that affect a large proportion of our membership.

Unfortunately, this is a concern at other universities as well. OCUFA drew attention to this again in a statement issued on January 24:

“Since the beginning of the pandemic, university administrations have developed the bad habit of making decisions about campus health and safety behind closed doors and circumventing existing shared governance bodies that include the voices of campus unions,” said Sue Wurtele, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations. “Given the increased danger of campus outbreaks with the Omicron variant, it should be obvious that this cycle can’t continue. It’s time to take the safer path, which requires full transparency about campus health and safety issues and accountable governing bodies that include experts from campus unions.”

What we’re asking for now

In light of the announcement about resuming in-person teaching, we have forwarded the following demands, based on concerns we’ve heard from members, to the administration:

  1. That an adequate supply of N95 or KN95 respirators be provided for our members and for all members of the UWaterloo community who must be on campus.
  2. That Rapid Antigen Tests be provided to faculty who are required to be on campus regularly, as soon as they are available.
  3. That the University conduct an assessment to determine when COVID-19 booster shots should be mandatory.
  4. That the University provide an update about safety upgrades to campus infrastructure that have taken place since July 2021, including information about air exchange rates and carbon dioxide levels in offices, classrooms, and other spaces, and information about how air quality will continue to be monitored and regularly reported to the campus community.
  5. That faculty have the autonomy to consult with their students and to decide whether their courses should continue online or in-person.
  6. That Faculty Councils and Senate have robust discussions of the conditions required for a safe return to campus.
  7. That faculty be meaningfully consulted on decisions related to a safe return to campus and our pedagogical duties.
  8. That until such meaningful consultation with faculty takes place, the administration stop claiming it is occurring.
  9. That the results of the recent survey asking employees how they feel about returning to campus be released to the campus community, along with any parallel survey results for students.

We have also expressed to students, through the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association, that without additional teaching supports, most faculty simply cannot deliver a course in multiple formats to accommodate students who prefer or need to stay online, and that questions about how this is going to work be directed to the University administration.

What you can do

We urge members to contact chairs and deans with your views and concerns, and to raise relevant issues at your respective Faculty Councils and at Senate. These are the normal venues where collegial decisions about teaching should be taking place. 

We encourage you to complete the survey sent to all employees last week asking how you feel about returning to campus, and to be honest in your reply.

We also encourage all members to take the daily COVID screening seriously when you are scheduled to be on campus, and to not work on campus if you fail the screening. You may want to remind your students of this as well when in-teaching classes resume.

The FAUW Board has discussed holding a virtual town hall to hear further from all members. We will share information about that with all members shortly.

FAUW knows that members want to return to campus. But safety for all must be the top priority.

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