UBC faculty speaking out about next week's return to in-person classes

Feb 1 2022, 9:26 pm

As UBC is set to return to in-person learning next week, the UBC Faculty Association president has issued a statement that suggests not everyone is satisfied with the plan.

The official return to in-person learning start date is February 7, but UBC Faculty Association President Alan Richardson points to high hospitalization rates in the province as one of the many reasons why that date may be precarious.

BC actually broke a record for hospitalizations yesterday, soaring past the 1,000 mark.

Richardson writes that the decision to return to in-person classes in the midst of rising hospitalization rates “is not a decision the Faculty Association can endorse, but it is the choice UBC has made.”

He goes on to write that he expects UBC to maintain its other commitments, like the vaccine mandate and wearing masks in indoor spaces.

“We expect that UBC will increase its diligence in matters relating to ventilation in all spaces. We expect to receive timely and reliable information on exposures and outbreaks on our campuses.”

In-person learning a benefit to mental health?

In-person learning has been a hot topic for several months, with many student society groups coming out in protest of administrative decisions to return to class.

For example, SFU returned to in-person learning on January 24, but prior to that, the Simon Fraser Students Society was trying to push that date forward.

Throughout the course of these conversations, one of the main reasons school administrators have pushed for in-person learning is the claim that it benefits the mental health of students. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has also repeated similar claims.

This is a claim that Richardson feels has no evidence attached to it.

“The causal part of this claim, tying the mental health situation of our students to mode of instruction, is one for which the Faculty Association has seen no evidence whatsoever.”

Richardson also takes aim at Henry for a lack of inclusiveness when it comes to post-secondary students.

“In the PHO’s letter to Presidents of post-secondary institutions written last week and in a slide deck circulating at UBC the only citations are to documents written in summer 2021 and based on data gathered in April and May 2021. No effort was made, it seems, to gather data to see if the fall return to campus changed any of the findings for post-secondary students.”

He suggests that the return to class could actually have detrimental impacts that are not being considered.

“Post-secondary students are suffering financial and mental health problems from the pandemic but so indeed are young people more generally. In the absence of any clear evidence linking those problems to mode of instruction, the return to campus might very well be in support of solving a problem that does not in fact exist. We can only hope we don’t in the process exacerbate other problems.”

Richardson states that the association will try and find solutions for educators who are seeking medical, pedagogical, or other exemptions to the return to in-person teaching.

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