COVID-19 Update – April 27th, 2021
Message from Association President
As you may have already heard from your Chair or Director, the University has recently released its guidelines on teaching for the fall. As announced earlier, the plan is that teaching will be face-to-face, as mandated by government directives. There will, however, be some exceptions. We are pleased to note that there are somewhat more exceptions than in earlier draft guidelines that were shared with the Association, as part of the University’s consultations on this important matter.
As noted in the VP Academic’s memo, exceptions to face-to-face teaching include:
- 100-level courses that enrol over 100 students. Units are encouraged, where possible and to ensure equitable access (e.g., for international students), to offer one of the course sections online if all core learning requirements can be met in this format.
- Courses with a large number (50 or more) international students who typically enrol. Units may elect to offerone of these course sections online to ensure equitable access for international students.
- Courses that satisfy the academic writing requirement (e.g., ATWP135).
In addition, the VP Academic notes that: “Deans may also include requests for changes to mode of delivery for singular courses… including cases such as, but not limited to, medical or family status accommodations requests (which may be received at any time in advance of, or during, the term), workforce availability issues, student need, or pedagogical best practice—provided that such changes do not amount to a deviation from the academic intent and content of the program, as approved by Senate.”
Many members look forward to teaching face-to-face in the fall, if they feel safe doing so. Other members may for a range of reasons not feel safe in this context and seek to teach partially or fully online (or librarians may wish to work online). In these cases, you may have the basis for a family or medical accommodation. Medical accommodations, which can be for physical or mental health conditions that impair a member’s ability to undertake their work, require medical documentation. We have been told that those requesting accommodation related to face-to-face fall teaching can currently go through existing procedures, but that a streamlined accommodation process will be available by mid-May. At that time, further information will also be available from the administration, both for those seeking accommodations and for Chairs and Directors. We will provide more information on these matters to our members as soon as it is available.
A family accommodation could include either a request for accommodation if you have no access to childcare, or if a return to face-to-face teaching in the fall would significantly compromise your ability to fulfill other familial obligations in some other way. We are awaiting information from the University as to whether a family status accommodation can also include the situation in which you have a child, other dependent or elder who would be put at serious risk if you were exposed to COVID-19 and brought the virus home.
While medical and family status accommodations can be sought at any time, we encourage all Members who know they may seek an accommodation to teach online to inform your Chair/Director this week.
If you can provide the evidence to demonstrate that you require an accommodation, the university is legally obligated to provide that accommodation, short of undue hardship to the institution. However, if you cannot provide adequate evidence to satisfy the criteria to receive an accommodation, your request can be denied by the university. We hope they will be flexible beyond the strictest necessities of the law.
Again, if you are planning on requesting an accommodation, I would encourage you to let your Chair, Director or supervising Librarian know this week so the intent can be noted when they submit their list of courses to be offered. Even if your circumstances do not meet the requirements for a formal accommodation, your Chair, Director, Dean or supervising Librarian may be able to develop a workload assignment for the fall that addresses some of your concerns.
As indicated in Article 39 of the Collective Agreement, if you are seeking an accommodation you must first advise your Chair, Director Dean or supervising Librarian. You may also wish to contact UVic’s Work-Life Consultant responsible for accommodations for faculty, Kelly Simpson. We encourage all Members who may be discussing personal circumstances rather than just general questions regarding accommodation to seek Faculty Association representation from our membership services officers (contact information below).
I would also encourage you to seek further information on medical accommodations on this UVic FA webpage. I will just caution that while this link provides useful information, it is not specific to the accommodation you may be requesting related to COVID-19 and fall teaching. Once the University’s website on COVID-19 is updated with accommodation information we will inform you and also place the information on the FA website.
Our membership services officers, Ben Johnson and Reuben Kellen will be pleased to provide advice and representation if you choose to put forward an accommodation request.
Will faculty and instructors be required to teach courses in both face-to-face and online format simultaneously?
While the guidelines from the VP Academic provide for some courses or course sections to be offered in both face-to-face and online format, the additional sections would be resourced separately by VPAC so that faculty and instructors would not have to teach a course in multiple modes, unless they wished to do so.
The Association is reassured by this directive. However, we are aware that in some contexts this may be difficult to mandate, so we would encourage any members who believe that they are being expected to teach in both face-to-face and online formats simultaneously, for part or all of the term, to contact the Association. You can contact our two membership services officers — Ben Johnson and Reuben Kellen
Health and Safety and Moving Forward
BC’s occupational health and safety regulations give employees the right to refuse unsafe work. In such contexts, however, one must demonstrate that the employer has not implemented government mandated safety requirements. Thus far, UVic has been in compliance with government mandated safety protocols. Even as the University as a whole is complying with the government mandate, there may be local and individual instances of failures to implement or abide by safety plans. If you have any concerns about safety plans not being properly implemented or followed, you may have a right to refuse unsafe work and should be prepared to raise the issue with your Chair, Director or supervising Librarian. In any such case, we would also encourage you to consult with the Association.
We have learned that the Minister of Advanced Education’s office is in the process of developing guidelines that are expected to guide the safe return to campus for fall for the post-secondary sector. This document is being drafted in collaboration with the Provincial Health Office and is expected to be released later this week or early next week. After it is released all FA leaders from across BC will be invited to attend a virtual town hall where we will receive a presentation by representatives from the Ministry of Advanced Education and the Public Health Office and have our questions addressed. Information from this town hall will be made available to our members as soon as possible.
UVic FA leaders are also meeting with Murray Rankin, our local MLA, at the end of this week, to discuss the concerns of our members about ensuring a safe return to work in the fall.
We are aware that our members would like to return to face to face teaching in the fall if it is safe to do so. There seemed to be considerable grounds for optimism in early March, when the government directives for face-to-face fall teaching were announced. The current situation seems less promising, with more variants, higher case counts, major restrictions, and more questions about whether one vaccination will adequately protect most people from contracting COVID, which was the assumption in early March. Due to classroom capacity, we can know now that it would not be feasible to maintain physical distancing restrictions under the current plans to reopen face-to-face. Another concern we have is that some classrooms that do not have ventilation may also need to be used.
The UVic administration is mandated to follow government directives. We appreciate that UVic consulted with the Association on this important matter and that there is some flexibility in UVic’s guidelines. We hope that the streamlined accommodation processes to be announced in mid-May will recognize and accommodate the legitimate issues facing some of our members. We are sure that the University does not want to put our members at risk of damage to their physical or mental health. We also trust that accommodation processes can happen quickly, so that faculty, students and Chairs can have certainty as soon as possible about whether specific courses will be offered in person or online.
We also recognize, given the current situation, that government directives could change at any time. If a shift to primarily online teaching becomes necessary, we hope that it will happen soon, so that our members do not have to devote time to preparing to teach in two different modes.
I know we are all very tired of living with uncertainty. Unfortunately, that remains our reality for at least the next few months. I’ve provided all of the information currently available, and will provide further information as soon as I am able.
I’m happy to answer any questions that I can, and to refer you to the administration for questions that I currently do not have answers to.
I’d like to thank Reuben Kellen, Victoria Wyatt and Nathan Todd for their advice and assistance in developing this message. I’d also like to wish strength and patience to those with marking still to complete, and I very much hope that you all get at least a bit of a break (in the Victoria area:) before diving into your research or next teaching term.
All the very best,