U of T faculty voice concerns over safety measures for in-person teaching

Aug 26 2020, 6:43 am

Some University of Toronto faculty are not satisfied with the reopening plan for the students and staff, claiming the safety measures are not enough.

The University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) has concerns over the return to in-person work for the fall 2020 semester, wanting improved health and safety measures during an “unprecedented pandemic.”

They put together a petition calling on the administration to pause most in-person teaching and other academic work, where possible, and to “meaningfully” consult with faculty, staff and students.

The petition has over 6,600 signatures.

According to UTFA President Terezia Zorić, the petition pressured Faculty of Arts and Science Dean, Melanie Woodin, to acknowledge the concerns over in-person teaching and to briefly pause the plan to consult with faculty on their preferred teaching method.

“For Fall 2020, faculty and other lecturers would now have the acknowledged right to teach online,” Zorić said. “Other units previously mandating dual-delivery teaching also granted faculty and lecturers the choice to teach online only.”

However, there are some issues that the UTFA still wants addressed.

The first is to listen to the expert advice from the faculty members at the university’s School of Public Health, which Zorić claims is being “systematically ignored” by the UofT Administration.

Teaching Assistants also do not have the option to teach online, which should be changed.

She adds that there is a lack of “meaningful consultation” on safety measures which are being made in a “top-down fashion.”

And the UTFA president claims that the U of T masks guidelines set forward by her coalition were rejected by the administration without an explanation.

In addition, “the U of T General Workplace Guidelines is not consistent with ‘best practices available’ in health and safety as is required by U of T’s own policy, and continues to leave unanswered very serious questions related to airborne transmission within U of T buildings with inadequate (outdated, un-tested, or even non-existent) ventilation systems.”

There is also the issue of improved ventilation with Zorić saying the UTFA has asked the administration for relevant documents like a list on buildings that require a replacement, or upgrade to their HVAC systems, which has not been fulfilled.

In response, Heather Boon, UofT’s Vice Provost, Faculty & Academic Life said the university is following public health guidelines which are “informed by a variety of experts from many universities and institutions including UofT.”

“Close to 90 % of students are enrolled in online courses only and we are following public health directives on class sizes. On any given day we expect there will be between two and five per cent of our normal activity on-campus compared with last year” she said in a written statement to Daily Hive.

Boon noted that classroom sizes have decreased drastically with spaces that usually hold 120 students, to now only have 20.

“UofT continues to meet regularly with faculty and unions and has indicated that it will continue to incorporate feedback from them and others regarding our mask policy. On the issue of enforcement of this policy, consistent with the approach of municipal governments, we focus on education, rather than take an adversarial approach,which could inadvertently lead to issues of discrimination and harassment of BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Colour) community members and people with disabilities,” she said.

U of T classes are set to begin on September 10.

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