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The presidents of Toronto Metropolitan University’s (TMU) campus unions released a joint statement on Wednesday expressing dissatisfaction with the university’s approach to returning to in-person learning. In it, they state they have “no confidence that TMU is taking every precaution reasonable” to protect community members.
On Aug. 19, the university administration announced that most classes would be returning to in-person learning and teaching, and that vaccination and masking policies remain on pause for the fall semester. Remote learning is available for a small number of courses and some services are offering virtual options “where feasible to meet student needs.”
Wednesday’s joint statement from Jesmen Mendoza, Kella Loschiavo, Jennifer Bareng, and Laurie Jacklin – presidents of XFA, OPSEU 596, CUPE 233 and CUPE 3904, respectively – says that “TMU’s reliance on the rudimentary guidelines from Toronto Public Health neglects the current science, the leading practices, and the universal design considerations that are appropriate for a crowded campus.”
The union presidents have sent their joint statement to the university’s senior administration and requested a meeting to discuss their concerns over the “barebone TMU approach” which they say limits choices for students and faculty with personal health needs or those depending on their care.
“For so many people, not masking is okay, but that’s not for everybody and we want people on campus to have choices,” Jacklin told On The Record. “One thing we are fighting against is this one-size-fits-all approach.”
The unions want TMU to provide students with guidance and support for specific situations that may arise in this new predominantly mask-free environment.
According to Jacklin, TMU provides “no latitude there, you have to apply for an accommodation,” to switch to remote learning. “But we want more options than just that. Is there something in between? Could it be negotiated with students that something different can happen in a class?”
Universities across Ontario started adopting their own health measures after the province announced in April 2022 that it was lifting all COVID-19 mandates, including masking and capacity requirements.
Western University, for example, is requiring COVID-19 booster shots as well as masking in indoor spaces this fall. University of Windsor updated their policies in June to require individuals to wear a mask in all indoor spaces where physical distancing is not possible. York University, however, has paused masking, vaccination and screening requirements, although all three are still encouraged.
Jacklin says because there is no consistency, there should be room for flexibility.
“We are all research-based institutes,” she says. “We have departments for public health, epidemiology and medical schools, so we are the people that generate the research and if there’s no consensus, that’s saying something. That needs to be dealt with.”
The University of Toronto (U of T) requires students living on campus this fall to have a primary series and at least one booster of a COVID-19 vaccine before moving in. However, it has suspended mask mandates, capacity restrictions, and verified ventilation and filtration improvements. TMU’s union leaders are working in conjunction with U of T’s unions who released a similar statement Wednesday expressing concerns over the “dismantling of COVID mitigation strategies.”
TMU’s unions forged a partnership with U of T’s in the middle of the pandemic specific to discussing the return to campus and addressing health concerns. “We struck up talks and maintained them over the past couple years about best practices, research from our members and affiliate unions, plus ideas from students,” Jacklin says, adding that TMU is only following Toronto Public Health guidelines.
On Tuesday, TMU president Mohamed Lachemi released a statement saying the members of the university community can remain vigilant in keeping each other safe by masking in small enclosed spaces and “staying up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, including booster shots.”
However, Lachemi’s statement also says, “We remain flexible in our response and may need to reinstate our policies … should health indicators in our province change.”
President Lachemi’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.