At the end of April, B.C. released a new Return-to-Campus Primer outlining how universities should handle a return to campus for their students. Although more information will be released later this summer, UVic has given every indication that they will follow the advice set out in the primer and that students can expect a full return to in-person classes in the fall.
The primer released by the province does not make physical distancing in classrooms mandatory, nor does it make proof of vaccination mandatory for those returning to campus. Even whether or not masks will be required depends on transmission rates.
Despite a slow vaccine rollout and the possibility that a single dose may not fully protect students against more aggressive variants, the province and the university are going to force students back into crowded classrooms.
This would not be as bad as it sounds if students had the option to take classes from the safety of their own homes. Unfortunately, it appears that won’t be the case.
To UVic’s credit, apparently some online classes are being offered. So far, UVic has said that only classes with high international enrollment will be online. If students are late to register or simply don’t register for the online unit for a course in time, they are out of luck and, it appears, will have to attend class in-person. Professors who need medical or family accommodation will be able to teach their classes online — students will not be granted that option.
UVic has had the chance for several months now to begin updating their online course delivery system, following a year in which it was widely panned by students. Instead of making an investment to improve the learning experience of students while also keeping them safe, it decided to abandon most online options. We now know — thanks to COVID-19 — that 90 per cent of UVic’s undergraduate classes can be taught online. If students don’t want to go back to in-person learning, why are they not being provided ample online or hybrid options?
Many students will be forced to enter claustrophobically tight classrooms with peers who may or may not be vaccinated, and who may or may not wear masks. This puts both students and instructors at risk. For immunocompromised students, it means putting their health at risk in order to keep up with their able-bodied peers who don’t give their concerns a second thought.
If UVic is going to say vaccines aren’t mandatory, online course delivery should be available. Instead, vaccines are not mandatory and it appears there will be little to no online course options. Instead of updating their online course delivery system or providing alternative options to students, it appears the university is going to rush a return to campus that puts everyone at risk and use lacklustre provincial guidelines to justify it.
Every student returning to UVic is coming from a unique situation. One massive part of opening back up the university campus does not accommodate all students, but rather it prioritizes those who have been in more fortunate situations over the last 14 months. Those students that can afford to live in a one-bedroom apartment and without a part-time job in the service industry will feel safer returning to campus, and perhaps even excited.
But most students are exhausted. They are exhausted from the continually changing provincial health directives. They are exhausted from the anxiety that comes with having to work in high-contact jobs for the entirety of the pandemic. And they are exhausted from constantly self-monitoring for symptoms before leaving the house. Frankly, we’re all exhausted from reporting on the university’s response to COVID-19 for over a year.
UVic always says that students’ health and safety is their number one priority, but this plan does not align with that claim. If this is UVic’s way of prioritizing health and safety, then they need to rethink their fall plans. The return-to-campus plan is a dangerous cocktail: no social distancing, no mandatory vaccines, and, so far, a lack of online class options.
Students are rightfully frustrated and anxious about returning to campus. We need better from our university.