McMaster’s winter term plans an exception among other Ontario schools

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Published October 29, 2021 at 9:34 pm

McMaster University, whose main campus is in west Hamilton, has about 33,000 students, including more than 28,000 undergrads. (File photo)

In addition to sweating over labs, midterms and term papers, McMaster University students might have another cause for anxiety — namely, the school’s stated plan to resume in-person classes in the winter term.

Ontario universities are offering a mix of in-person and remote learning this fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hamilton’s university appears to be an exception in this region of Ontario, having recently reaffirmed that it is planning for a full return to in-person classes in January.

On Oct. 21, McMaster provost and vice-president (academic) Susan Tighe affirmed in a ‘What To Expect’ open letter that the school will resume in-person classes in January. McMaster initially announced those plans in a virtual town hall in early June.

“McMaster is currently planning to resume in-person classes in the winter term with very limited exceptions,” Tighe wrote. “Teams across campus are also planning to ramp up on-campus student life activities so they are closer to, if not meeting, pre-pandemic capacities. This includes services and resources, events, and student study and social space.”

The letter adds that McMaster “will be ready to pivot if necessary and will continue to closely follow all public health mandates.”

By January, many students will have been away from campus for almost two years, since Ontario formally entered a state of emergency on March 17, 2020. Apart from the reference to services and resources, student mental health was not directly mentioned.

At least one petition is calling on McMaster to remain in hybrid learning has appeared on change.org.

Some universities in the region do plan to continue to offer remote learning.

A quick survey of Southern Ontario schools’ COVID-19 update pages indicates McMaster’s firm wording about a full return is an outlier.

  • The University of Guelph states it plans to “offer in-person instruction for most courses this winter” and “will continue to support instructors who choose to use a blend of remote and in-person components in teaching.” An Oct. 18 letter by Guelph provost Gwen Chapman also emphasized that classes will have a “default enrolment cap of 450 students,” in order to limit traffic flow around lecture halls, and potentially, airborne tranmission of COVID-19. The Ontario Ministry of Health and Ministry of Training, College and Universities have no such requirement.
  • The University of Waterloo appears to be hedging its bets somewhat, saying in a recent statement that it is planning “to deliver a more normal level of winter term classes in person (and) will continue to work with our local public health team to make sure our plans protect your physical and mental health.”
  • Wilfrid Laurier, whose main campus is in Waterloo Region with a satellite campus in Brantford, has not updated its COVID-19 policies since Oct. 4.
  • Western University in London returned to in-person learning in September with numerous health and safety measures in place, and “a variety of courses in-person, on-line, and in a blended format.”

    The university also published a COVID-19 update on Wednesday that did not mention changes for the winter term. Western has a fall reading week and the update mostly focused on the re-opening of campus dining spaces.

  • The U of Windsor has left its options open. A recent mailout to students and staff said Windsor “is currently planning for greater face-to-face class and lab offerings for the Winter 2022 term.”
  • Brock, which is in St. Catharines, has yet to provide an update.

All universities have created vaccine requirements. McMaster said last week that 96 per cent of students and 99 per cent of faculty are fully vaxxed. The vaccines reduce the likelihood of becoming ill from the virus. A fully vaccinated person can get it, and be asymptomatic and pass it to others who are either unvaccinated, or have comorbidities.

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