Some faculty members voice concerns over return to in-person teaching

While many are excited for the return to in-person classes in September, several faculty members have expressed concerns about UBC’s planning for the fall.

In a June interview with The Ubyssey, Mark Mac Lean, a mathematics professor and faculty representative on the Board of Governors, said that colleagues have shared concerns with him over how the health and well-being of everyone in the classroom will be ensured come September.

“Most faculty hope to return to teaching in person, but they want to ensure the concerns they have are fully addressed before doing so,” he said.

Mac Lean said that he worries that UBC might use “a managerial approach” that would force faculty members to teach in person, which would violate their academic freedom.

“This runs counter to the very nature of a university and the role of the faculty within it … Academic freedom implies faculty have a great deal of latitude in choosing their approaches to teaching,” he said.

Mac Lean believes that UBC should respond to his colleagues in a manner that “respects that many of them have been under extraordinary stress at home because of their own or their loved one’s vulnerability during this pandemic.” Empathy and a trauma-centred approach should be a part of UBC’s response to faculty, he added.

In a June interview with The Ubyssey, Dr. Jennifer Gagnon, a sessional lecturer in the department of political science and founder of the Disability Affinity Group, said that the concerns of disabled faculty and staff were not being included in planning and developing the return to work mandate.

In response, Gagnon and the Disability Affinity Group have initiated a letter writing campaign to express their concerns. So far, the campaign has received responses from human resources, the President’s Office, staff unions and representatives from the Board of Governors. The group is also currently in talks with UBC on how best to make the university more accessible for disabled staff, Gagnon said.

Gagnon, who identifies as a disabled woman, would prefer not to return to a normal work environment this fall.

“Our working conditions are often violent and traumatic. Many faculty and staff with disabilities have actually found remote work, and the experience of working during the pandemic, to actually be the most accessible and inclusive that we’ve ever experienced,” she said.

Other members of the Disability Affinity Group have expressed similar concerns.

“We’ve learned that UBC can indeed support a truly accessible and inclusive working and educational environment and that many people at UBC don’t want to continue to do that,” Gagnon said.

Matthew Ramsey, director of university affairs at UBC Media Relations, acknowledged the faculty’s concerns in a written statement sent to The Ubyssey in May.

“UBC has worked, and continues to work, as diligently and flexibly as possible to ensure that the concerns of our community are heard and addressed in as timely a manner as possible. The health and safety of the community is first and foremost in all planning processes which are informed by and in consultation with Vancouver Coastal Health and in accordance with the BC Re-Start Plan,” Ramsey wrote.

Ramsey said that the university would provide regular updates to students, faculty and staff related to the return to campus. This included a series of listening sessions organized by the Vancouver Provost’s office earlier in the summer where faculty could express their concerns, as well as a similar event for students late last month.