With universities returning to in-person learning, students and profs have concerns

For both Carleton and uOttawa, the return to class is only for courses already been scheduled for in-person instruction.

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The University of Ottawa will return to in-person learning on Jan. 31, while Carleton has announced that it will return on Feb. 7.


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In both cases, the return to class is only for courses already been scheduled for in-person instruction, while other courses will remain online.

But both students and faculty have questions they say the universities still need to answer.

“No one knows what Omicron is going to do,” said Angelo Mingarelli, a mathematics professor and president of the Carleton University Academic Staff Association, which represents almost 1,000 professors, instructors and professional librarians.

Meanwhile, some students made decisions about their lives in early December, based on early reports about Omicron, said Tim Gulliver, president of University of Ottawa Students’​ Union, which represents about 33,000 undergraduates.


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Some students have decided to return home and gave up their rental accommodations, including some international students, he said.

The University of Ottawa has announced that all in-person or bimodal courses will be given as initially planned for winter term, beginning Jan. 31.

More details are to be released soon, along with physical distancing requirements, said the university. Support staff are to make a gradual return to campus by mid-March.

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“Information we have received to date from provincial and municipal public health authorities is unequivocal,” university president Jacques Frémont said in a statement.

“The message is clear: under current conditions, we can envisage a return to campus in person starting Jan. 31, so long as preventative measures are followed at all times, including mandatory vaccination, masking and physical distancing of two metres, along with other public health and safety recommendations.”


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Carleton said recent modelling confirms that the Omicron spike will be narrow, “with cases likely having peaked or being about to peak, and expected to decrease rapidly thereafter.”

However, Carleton decided to delay the return to campus by one more week to Feb. 7 to offer time to prepare and allow for an assessment of how the plan will be affected by the Jan. 17 return to school for elementary and secondary students.

Some campus unions argue that there are still too many unknowns.

“Our members don’t want to get sick. They don’t want to go home and make their families sick, either. And this goes for students as well,” said Mingarelli, who is concerned about ventilation on campus and the availability of masks and testing.


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The union has an agreement with the university for accommodating members, but it’s done on a case-by-case basis, said Mingarelli, who is meeting with university administrators next week.

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The Association of Part-time Professors at the University of Ottawa has urged the university to rethink the plan.

The association said its members teach more than 80 per cent of of bimodal and in-person classes and part-time professors are the only group of employees at the university who don’t have long-term disability insurance and are concerned about the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Faced with the imposition of a return to campus, “many professors will decide to abandon their contracts, jeopardizing the continuity of many course for students,” the union warned in a statement.


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About 2,600 students responded to a survey mailed by the University of Ottawa Students’​ Union to its members earlier this month. About half said they agreed or strongly agreed that they want to return to in-person learning, while the other half said the opposite.

Most of the comments from those who didn’t want to return expressed concern about the Omicron variant and its transmissibility, said Gulliver.

“I think a large proportion of the student population is still anxious about it.”

First and second-year students were among those most eager to return to in-person learning, possibly because they have never had an opportunity to live the full campus experience, he said.

Carleton said students who have concerns about return to in-person instruction or are unable to return to Ottawa can make changes to their course schedule or register for online courses. 

“The winter 2022 schedule includes a mix of in-person and online courses, across all departments, to maximize flexibility for students.”

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Algonquin College’s academic programming is being delivered in a hybrid mode until March 6, with most theory courses being delivered virtually, while applied learning activities are continuing on campuses.

The college is keeping an eye on the situation and public health data.



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