Western faculty calling for stricter protocols until vaccine mandate takes effect

Western University is standing by its decision not to have COVID-19 capacity limits or physical distancing requirements in its classrooms.

It follows a call by the Western faculty union to limit in-person learning until a vaccine mandate takes effect this fall.

“It’s a health and safety issue for many of our members,” said University of Western Ontario Faculty Association President, Nigmendra Narain.

The association is calling for class sizes to be capped at 50 per cent until Western’s full vaccination mandate for students and staff takes effect October 12. It wants classes that can’t reach the capacity limit to go online until then, said Narain.

“We have members who have children at home, young children who cannot be vaccinated. We have members that have elderly parents that are at home that they have to take care of,” he explains. “And they cannot safely return home from coming onto campus if they’re packed in a class of 500 people, some of whom may or may not have been able to comply with the vaccine mandate in time.”

Western said the province is allowing for flexibility when it comes to capacity and physical distancing. Provost Sarah Prichard tells CTV News the province has encouraged in-person learning, and that’s exactly what Western intends to do.

“We believe that we’ve got a very safe environment to do that with our vaccination policy, with our vaccination validation, masking, better ventilation.”

Based on early responses to its mandatory vaccination policy, Western is reporting a vaccination rate in the high-90 per cent range.

Last year colleges and universities held almost all classes online. A number of on-campus events were cancelled outright. This year there seems to be little appetite to go back to those measures.

“They’ve come here solely for the purpose of sitting in a classroom learning,” said Western business student Umari Dhillon. “Last year, if I’m being completely honest, the manner in which the courses were delivered had changed. So, I personally would not be very comfortable in online learning another year.”

Media Studies student Adrianna Rachpaul is entering her first year of university and says she’s had enough of online learning from her high school experience.

“I didn’t really like online learning for high school, so I think it would kind of suck. And it would take away from the experience of university, so I wouldn’t like that.”

Last year several COVID-19 outbreaks were tied to Western residences and off-campus gatherings involving Western students.