Updated health and safety guidelines for post-secondary campuses come up short
VICTORIA – UVic unions (CUPE 951, CUPE 4163, the UVic Chapter of the Professional Employees Association (PEA), and the UVic Faculty Association) welcome the BC government’s announcement today about mask mandates in post-secondary institutions, and the requirement for vaccinations for students in residence, food services and other “non-essential” spaces on campus. But, despite these positive measures, the updated guidelines ultimately come up short when it comes to protecting the health of students and employees.
“These new rules will protect many of our members,” said CUPE 951 President Kirk Mercer. “However, UVic unions remain very concerned that universities cannot require vaccinations for students in classrooms. This is the most important measure needed to help protect the health and safety of students and employees.”
Today’s announcement by government was confusing, with mixed messages about how the new guidelines would be implemented and who they would apply to. Minister Kang stated that post-secondary institutions would be granted the autonomy to implement their own health and safety measures over and above the PHO (including proof of vaccine requirement) but was then contradicted by Dr. Bonnie Henry who stated that this does not apply to students, who can attend classes with no vaccination requirement.
Dr. Henry claims that university classrooms are comparable to K-12, where there was apparently little transmission last year. “This reflects a total lack of understanding of university environments, where students move between two to three classes of 200 or more students each day,” said UVic Faculty Association President Lynne Marks. “Allowing students to remain unvaccinated, with no requirement for rapid testing, reflects a lack of concern for the health of faculty, staff, and students.”
“Compared to other provinces, BC has unparalleled control over the post-secondary sector,” said PEA Chapter Chair Sheryl Karras. “While almost all universities across Canada have the autonomy to mandate vaccinations or rapid testing for students, and have done so, this is still not possible in BC. We remain frustrated by our government’s inflexible approach to the health and safety of our campus communities.”
Dr. Henry states that she does not wish to prevent anyone from accessing a university education because of their vaccination status. In taking this particular stance, she ignores alternatives. “The rapid testing alternatives to vaccination put in place by most Canadian universities show that this is not an issue,” said Marks. “A much bigger issue is that without a vaccine mandate and rapid testing to protect them, many students will be prevented from attending university, in order to protect their health and the health of their families.”
“Students might have the option to withdraw from unsafe classrooms and other university spaces, but university employees do not have that option,” said CUPE 4163 President Greg Melnechuk. “We call on the Public Health Office to step in to mandate safe workplaces for our members.”
BC currently has among the highest per capita case counts in the country and cases continue to rise. A recent report by the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group, which includes scholars from UVic and other BC universities, projects dramatic increases in cases counts and hospitalizations. The government has only gone part of the way to create safe campuses this fall. They must follow the science, and the lead of almost all other provincial governments in Canada, giving universities the autonomy to mandate vaccinations for students and employees alike.
We acknowledge with respect and gratitude that our work takes place on the unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Lekwungen and WSANEC peoples.
Greg Melnechuk, President
Professional Employees Association (PEA)
Sheryl Karras, Chair
UVic Faculty Association (UVICFA)
Lynne Marks, President
Ben Johnson, Membership Services Advisor, UVICFA