Conflict and Confusion

Conflict and Confusion

Photo Credit via University of Toronto

U of T’s reopening plan for 2021-2022 Fall semester.

Ruichen Yan, Associate News Editor

As a new school year starts and students are gradually returning to the campus, the University of Toronto and the University of St. Michael’s college have implemented a series of policies to prevent and limit the spread of Covid-19 during the new semester.

“Rebuild” with resilience: U of T and SMC reopening

On August 31st, the Ontario Ministry of Colleges and Universities released new guidance allowing Ontario Universities to deliver in-person teaching. U of T initiated a more rigorous program to stop the spread of COVID19, with the reopening of in- person schooling. The University launched a self-assessment tool, UCheck, to monitor the health condition of the community. Before coming to the campus, all students must upload their proof of being fully vaccinated and a self-assessment to UCheck. Students who are not fully vaccinated due to either an exemption or receiving only one dose of vaccine must register the University’s rapid screening program to monitor themselves regularly and must upload their results to UCheck. International students coming to Canada must present a recent negative COVID-19 test result upon arrival at the airport or land border and quarantine at either University provided hotel or at their homes for atleast 14 days before coming to campus. As outlined in the plan, the University expects everyone to have their first dose of vaccine by September 13th and be fully vaccinated by October 15th. 

Like U of T, St. Michael’s College also applied the UCheck system to protect the health of employees and students. Instructors must be fully vaccinated before presenting lectures, and students living in residence must provide proof of vaccination or daily health screening to UCheck. 

U of T is also offering a hybrid instruction format to reduce large gatherings. From September 9th to 23rd, all designated in-person classes will offer an online option to fit the students’ needs as they may be unable to or uncomfortable with coming to campus in person. After September 23rd, all designated in-person classes will be offered in-person or according to the instructors’ choice.

Aside from class operations, the opening hours for libraries and sports centers have also been altered for the new semester. Robarts Library, Gerstein Information Center, UTM, and UTSC Library reopened following COVID protocols, after a year of the shutdown. Before accessing the stacks and reading rooms, visitors must show their TCard and UCheck status to the receptionists. Libraries will not be providing extended overnight hours. Fortunately, Curbside Pickup is still available for students and staff, and the libraries have extended the due dates to return borrowed books, to reduce pressure on students and faculty members. U of T Sport&Rec updated on September 21st about the new requirements with reopening: showing UCheck and UTOR-ID to enter, limiting the number of people in spaces at a given time, and maintaining social distancing when doing exercises.

Confusion over communication, conflict emerges

Amidst the spread of Covid-19, international students have faced difficulties. Michael Liu, a third-year international student studying computer science at the Faculty of Arts and Science spoke about their return experience: “The University is not doing well when international students arrived.” He talked about his concerns about going back to campus: “mass gathering is inevitable at University, but there could be more solutions to deal with this problem.” He explained: “There should be social distancing in the classroom to prevent the spread of the virus from coughing or droplets; more mental health assistance and more agents to cater with students’ needs. University should give students more informative instruction on how the in-person instruction would be conducted rather than hesitating and ambivalent. I am still not sure if I have to go back to campus, and I’m afraid of being exposed under such kind of a staggering circumstance”. 

The conflict between the University administration and students on the reopening plan has never stopped, even before the school starts. On August 14th, the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) published an open letter to oppose the U of T Return to Campus Plan. According to the Arts and Science Student Union (ASSU) survey, only 30% of Arts Science students are optimistic about switching to in-person courses. This may be due to ambiguous communication from the University administration. UTSU also urges the University to provide more choices for students to determine their academic pathway: recording all lectures, tutorials and labs and replacing all participation marks earned synchronously or asynchronously, allowing students who join the course remotely or are outside of Canada to be involve in the class, while rethinking exam arrangements to prohibit any in-person exams. More importantly, UTSU asks for more precise statistics on the number of community members being vaccinated, the policy on physical distancing, and a complete proposal for course delivery and UCheck regulations.

The road ahead?

As the new semester opens, the emergence of new Covid-19 cases at U of T has not ceased. Between September 20th and 22nd, there have been two more cases diagnosed positive with a Covid-19 test. The tension between the University and students on the reopening schedule is continuing, and students may not be satisfied until the full implementation of vaccinations in October.