Winnipeg– The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA) is calling on university administrators to prioritize faculty and student health and safety in the New Year, with many universities planning an aggressive return to in-person learning, in some cases with relaxed COVID19 protocols (e.g., eliminating social distancing). University faculty have, with limited help from their administrations, pivoted to a novel online environment to ensure their students can continue their education with minimal disruption. Faculty workload and stress levels have gone beyond the breaking point. A safe return to the classroom is essential.
In the face of a spreading omicron variant and a health care crisis in Manitoba, MOFA calls upon our university administrators to take every step to protect students, faculty and staff. This would include, but is not limited to, greatly expanding COVID testing on campus. MOFA calls on administrators to access the millions of rapid antigen tests currently being held in storage by the provincial government, and to distribute them to university faculty, students and staff.
“As many campuses prepare to return to in-person learning, it is crucial that we do everything we can to keep our faculty, students and staff safe,” said Jennifer Adair, a Brandon University Psychiatric Nursing Instructor and MOFA executive council member. “Providing rapid tests is just one tool available to prevent further community spread, along with proper masks and improved ventilation.”
During the first wave of the pandemic, faculty quickly pivoted to online learning, with little support from their administrations. Faculty understood the need to make that transition during the pandemic: they accepted the greatly increased workloads to make it work for their students. Decisions made on the fly, giving faculty no time to prepare makes the job exponentially harder. When possible, decisions need to be made to give all concerned advance warning of the changes to come. Unlike March 2020, we can now see what is coming. The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly. Outbreaks have already occurred on campuses across the country forcing institutions to abandon in-person exams. With cases counts set to rise with near certainty over the coming holidays, an aggressive resumption of in-person classes poses a high risk.
MOFA calls on university administrations to make the decision before the winter break to move courses online, or to provide maximal investments in ventilation, protection, testing, and prevention, including revised vaccination mandates requiring third (booster) shots.
“Faculty have done the heavy lifting for our universities during the pandemic. To push then harder now, as we approach the third year of COVID19, is simply unacceptable,” said Scott Forbes, MOFA President. “Faculty and students need clarity. No one desires a shift from previously announced in-person classes back to online learning, but if that decision must be made, it is best made before classes resume, giving faculty and students time to prepare. We need to take the precautionary approach in the face of uncertainty. A bold move to in-person classes, followed by a panic decision to pivot mid-semester to online classes is the far worse option. Last summer, it was clear that administrations were resisting vaccine mandates: such mandates were only adopted because of pressure from MOFA and our member faculty associations. It is students and faculty who work in the high-risk environments of crowded classrooms with an airborne virus. Now is not the time to roll the dice on health and safety.”
MOFA’s call to action today comes as other universities across the country experience outbreaks on campus and emergency decisions to discontinue in-person exams. MOFA represents over 1,600 professors, instructors and librarians across all four of Manitoba’s public universities.