By Sophia Lopez, March 24 2021—
In a recent statement made by the Minister of Advanced Education, Demetrios Nicolaides, it has been officially decided that Alberta post-secondary students must prepare to transition to on-campus learning for the Fall 2021 semester. President Ed McCauley also sent out an email to students regarding returning back to campus, and reassured them that the University of Calgary will follow through with this decision as long as it is safe to do so.
In an interview with the Gauntlet, Students’ Union President Frank Finley discussed how he believes that Nicolaides’ statement lacked a true plan for returning to campus, and that clearer information should have been given from the Alberta government regarding this issue. In addition, he mentions how mixed messages were being given, as the province has been fighting for more vaccines to be sent to Alberta while also saying that all adults will be vaccinated by June.
“It is concerning and it does not fill me with confidence,” Finley stated.
However, Finley thought that McCauley’s email sent out to students was exactly what he wishes for U of C — to return to campus, but only if it is safe for everyone.
“Well, president McCauley is right on the mark,” he said. “We want to be able to have a full return but only if it is safe for our students and staff, and that is what I believe as well. When it comes down to it, it is about safety.”
Finley adds how even if all adults were to be vaccinated by June, the university introduces many first-year students who may not be vaccinated, leaving room for risks and issues for others on campus.
“There still will be people who are students at the University of Calgary who may not be vaccinated come the fall. We have around 1,000 17-year-olds who are part of our newest cohort every year,” Finley explains. “Many of those 17-year-olds will be in lecture theatres of three-to-four hundred people in a normal year — that causes concern for community transmission. When it comes down to it, community transmission, even for people who are vaccinated, of course still poses risk.”
Finley proposes that if on-campus learning were to resume in September, students should be allowed to make the decision for themselves as to whether or not they feel safe returning to campus.
“In terms of what specifically can be done, students who do not feel safe coming back to campus should be accommodated for academically — while it would be logistically difficult, it would be nice to see classes mirrored both in-person and online when possible to give students that option,” he said.
When discussing the possibility of having both online and in-person options of learning for the future, Finley believes that the university should consider giving students the option to choose the learning method that best allows them to succeed, as many students benefit from the flexibility of an online learning format.
“I see a future in which students take both in-person and online classes in the same semester,” said Finley. “Which provides them with not only that face-to-face learning when necessary, but also flexibility in some classes as well.”
Although mentioned already, Finley wants to make sure students understand that if they feel unsafe returning to campus due to COVID-19 or related issues, that they should not have to be forced to return back to an on-campus setting.
“If students do not feel safe coming to campus because of their own health conditions, their inability to be vaccinated or concerns about the health of their loved ones, then they should not be forced to come back,” he states. “And the best available accommodations including online classes should be made for those students.”
To conclude the conversation, Finley sent out a final message directed towards the government regarding returning safely to campus this September.
“Quite frankly, the minister’s statement is broad and lacks any real detail, and I would call on the minister to put forward a solid plan of how to return to classes safely without putting students and staff at risk. And further, he should provide financial support to institutions to allow them to re-open safely and ensure proper cleaning protocols can be done adequately,” he concludes.
For more information on COVID updates at U of C, visit their website.