University of Toronto Mississauga says winter term will proceed as planned, despite students’ concerns

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Published November 22, 2021 at 4:32 pm

A University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) student email petition that seeks to delay what many students view as an abrupt return to in-person classes now numbers more than 2,000 supporters and counting, but university officials say they’re proceeding with the winter term schedule as planned. 

UTM’s move to restart in-person lectures and other classes in January has left many students, particularly international learners and others who must travel a long distance back to the Mississauga Rd. campus, scrambling to make arrangements.  

Beyond the logistics involved, students are also concerned about their safety in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They’re asking the university to delay the return to in-person learning until next summer.

In a “message to the UTM community” released this afternoon, UTM vice-president and principal Alexandra Gillespie said the in-person class schedule is set “and we don’t expect it to change.” 

Gillespie noted that UTM, home to more than 14,700 students, is prioritizing student safety and “will follow any new directives introduced by Peel Public Health,” adding public health officials “have advised us to implement our current plan, based on trends in Peel and our campus’ ongoing success at preventing outbreaks and transmission.” 

UTM announced in October that it is planning to hold the majority of winter semester courses in person. Prior to that, according to a number of students, the university had taken more of a wait-and-see approach, making the announcement seem like an abrupt about-face. 

While some students, including a number of those who must return from abroad, are able to make it back by January, many others are not. And they’re worried they’ll lose a year of school, and in other cases are concerned their scholarships may be jeopardized. 

As of today, 2,026 students, and counting, had emailed UTM officials via a UTM Student Union petition entitled “We Need a Safe Return to Campus.” That’s an increase of nearly 400 student supporters for the petition in the past four days. 

The mass email, sent to more than a dozen senior UTM and University of Toronto decision-makers, including U of T president Meric Gertler and Gillespie, reads, in part: “The announcement to return back to campus in January was very abrupt and disorganized. Students are now finding it difficult to make housing, transportation and travel arrangements. While we know that everyone wants to be back on campus, students do not want to be on campus without proper planning and notice. Students need a safe and slow transition back to in-person learning.” 

In the email, students call on UTM officials to “ensure a safe and equitable return to campus” by: 

  • delaying the full return to campus until summer 2022 when there are reduced class offerings
  • refusing to exercise the discretionary option to lower pandemic safety standards that were granted to post-secondary institutions by the Ontario government
  • scheduling all in-person classes, librarianship and other work to comply with Peel Public Health’s strong recommendations in support of two-metrephysical distancing and reduced density indoors
  • supporting international students by hosting a town hall and creating an action plan to address their specific academic, immigration, health and housing needs
  • establishing a consistent and centralized accommodation procedure

The submission from students concludes: “As students, we should not have to choose between our academic careers, well-being and safety. These protocols and accommodations will help me, my colleagues, staff and faculty successfully transition back to in-person learning and find a balance in life, where I can meaningfully engage in my classes.” 

In her message to UTM students, Gillespie assured them the university takes its responsibility to provide a safe environment seriously. She said UTM has instituted “industry-leading ventilation improvements, increased our cleaning protocols and implemented rapid antigen and wastewater testing.” 

Furthermore, Gillespie added, the campus has also established a clear, streamlined process for case reporting and contact tracing, and across U of T the vaccination rate is greater than 99 per cent. 

“At UTM, we have thousands of students living in campus residence and taking in-person courses, we have faculty operating labs at full capacity and we have staff and librarians providing frontline and essential support,” she said, noting since fall classes began there have been no COVID-19 outbreaks at UTM, and no known transmission of the virus on campus. 

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