The University of Toronto received a “D” grade on its current reopening plan from one of its top epidemiologists at a virtual union meeting Monday night.
More than 350 participants joined the online event put on by the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) and other major campus unions to discuss the university’s current plan to reopen. The event featured a panel of several of the university’s scientists and professors.
Dr. David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and one of the panel speakers, gave the university’s back-to-school plan the almost-failing grade.
“As an institution that prides itself on the quality of our research, it is critically important that we get the re-opening strategy right and that it be based on the best scientific evidence that we have,” said Fisman.
Some of the unions’ concerns include the university administration’s refusal to meet with the UTFA for discussion or to listen to the institution’s own experts.
“It is extraordinary that the World Health Organization, provincial and federal governments and departments of public health rely on advice from our Dalla Lana School of Public Health scientists yet the University of Toronto’s administration is systematically ignoring these same experts,” said Terezia Zoric, the president of UTFA.
“There are better ways to ensure our students continue to get a high-quality education without producing so much risk.”
The group also highlighted concerns over “inadequate” ventilation systems and the university’s mask guidelines, suggested changes to which were “rejected without explanation.”
In a statement to CBC News, the university’s vice provost for faculty and academic life, Heather Boon, said the school is following public health guidelines “informed by a wide variety of experts from many universities and institutions including U of T.”
Like other universities, Boon said, U of T will limit in-person activity to situations where students need to be on-site for activities required for graduation, such as labs. In those cases, there will be physical distancing measures in place, so that a classroom that normally has space for 120 people will now be limited to 20.
“We know from our students that not all of them have access to reliable internet and a suitable place to study and addressing this inequity is one of the reasons we will have limited in-person activity on our campus,” the statement went on to say.
In addition to physical distancing, the school said it is stepping up cleaning, making available more hand sanitizer and wipes, installing Plexiglas barriers, improving ventilation and making masks mandatory in common indoor areas on campus, including classrooms.
The school said 90 per cent of students are enrolled only in online courses and that on any given day, it estimates up to five per cent of students at the undergraduate and graduate levels will be on its three campus for courses compared to last year.