Confederation of BC faculty associations calls for ‘institutional autonomy,' stronger COVID-19 guidelines for fall term

The Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC (CUFA) is asking the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training to establish health and safety rules on university campuses for the fall term. UBC’s Faculty Association is a member of the confederation.

In a Thursday letter, CUFA President Dan Laitsch wrote that members are concerned with their workplaces’ return to campus plans.

“These concerns are borne of their exclusion from institutional decision-making and from the behind-the-scenes direction being given to institutional administrators against the express needs of faculty, staff, and students,” he wrote.

The letter references Public Health Officer Bonnie Henry’s recent comments that suggested universities could implement stronger mask and vaccine policies than the BC Restart Plan currently outlines.

“Dr. Henry assured public post-secondary institutions that they must do what is needed to make campuses safe for everyone ... Since that time, however, clarification from the office of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training has contradicted this, instead quietly directing institutions away from introducing such measures,” the letter reads.

Laitsch, citing the province’s University Act, emphasized the independence of universities to make decisions around campus health and safety and criticized the Ministry for its “heavy-handed direction” in dictating mask and vaccine policies.

“We call on you, Minister Kang, to affirm the autonomy of BC’s universities to continue to establish the health and safety rules governing safe campuses, including but not limited to the introduction of vaccine and mask mandates, modes of course delivery, class sizes, and on-campus joint health and safety committees,” he wrote.

The Ubyssey has reached out to Laitsch for further comment.

At UBC, 82 per cent of student respondents to the AMS’s Return to Campus survey said that they wished to see a vaccine mandate in residence, while 60 per cent said they wanted a mask mandate for large lecture halls. Similar data is not available for faculty and staff, but many have voiced concerns online.

Over the last two weeks, UBC’s AMS has sent two letters to university administration and the Board of Governors, calling for mandatory masks and a vaccine mandate for students living in residence.

UBC’s Faculty Association issued a letter of its own on July 26 in which it hesitated to endorse mandatory masks or vaccinations, but called for greater details around what ‘back to normal’ would look like in the fall.

On August 9, the Faculty Association called for “UBC to adopt an indoor mask mandate in all its spaces and a vaccine mandate for all its employees and students (subject to the normal legal exemptions) in advance of the September reopening.”

The university has responded to these past communications with a letter, as well as a blog post and video from President Santa Ono, in which it reaffirmed its opposition to stricter mask and vaccine requirements.

The CUFA’s letter comes as BC has been seeing the highest daily COVID-19 case counts since May. Yesterday, the province reported 402 new cases of the virus.