Dear OCADFA members,

Due to public health concerns related to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in Ontario, OCAD University’s Administration has chosen to delay the start of instructional classes and activities to Friday, January 28.  

The VPAP’s message today hit many of the right notes.  The VPAP acknowledged faculty, staff and technicians’ labours under COVID-19 and recognized the disruption to research/production plans and the toll working through the pandemic has taken on our collective mental and physical health. 

OCADFA recognizes the need for Administration to take immediate steps to protect our collective health and safety.  However, the obvious questions needs to be raised: why are we not doing what other universities are doing, going remote for January and then picking up in-person for the rest of the term?  Or even have a staggered start for two instructional paths, online and in-person. 

First and foremost OCADFA has sought assurances from Administration that no one will be out of pay.  Our most precarious members, contract faculty and TA’s/RA’s have carefully planned cash flows for the winter term. Their personal budgets cannot be jeopardized and we expect Administration to work with us to ensure OCADFA members are not suddenly left in financial limbo through this change.  We have already begun conversations with Administration to ensure no one is left in financial risk because of these changes. 

These are OCADFA recommendations/concerns:

  • We ask for genuine consultation,  so we can provide informed feedback on major decisions like these.  While we appreciate being notified a day in advance of the general announcement, we would instead like to give feedback to these decisions as they are being made so we can help shape them.  We recognize that the fluidity of the situation and the urgency to make decisions sometimes means the process of making these decisions can’t be perfect, but OCADFA, as the union representing over 650+ employees at the University, must be treated as more than a final information stop.
  • As faculty, many of us are unconvinced pushing back the start of instructional period to January 28th was necessary. Many have asked why not go remote for January and then in-person for the rest of the term. Half the courses are already teaching online so forcing them to start on January 28th doesn’t really make sense. Pedagogically, having staggered start times for online and in-person classes could help students manage workload, especially without a formal assessment period for in-person courses.
  • Losing the Assessment period and our Winter Break are major losses for faculty and students.  These are times when we catch up with work that has piled up.  For faculty, grading 70+ assignments in a concentrated period of time will be a staggering amount of work in a short period of time. The toll on our mental health and the increased workload will be significant. And the toll on students’ well being is also concerning. At the very least, there needs to be a clearly communicated extension to when final grades are due.
  • Universities gained exemptions for indoor occupancy/density limits premised on universal compliance with vaccine mandates.  Dropping social distancing limitations inside classrooms is a compromise to health and safety. These social distancing limits inside classrooms will protect faculty and students. We are asking that Indoor capacity and physical distance limitations adhere to Ontario’s Step 3 regulations.  Why is it that social distancing is deemed necessary in the hallways but then not inside the classroom? 
  • It seems 100 McCaul has reported excellent testing results but information on 113 McCaul, 205 Richmond and other buildings we do not own has not offered the same data.  In fact, it appears little is known about the testing results, filter changes or upgrades to the rooms we use in these buildings.
  • Results and schedule of air quality tests to be shared widely to University community. Rooms tested must be a broad and representative sample of rooms and occupied spaces. Perhaps include the data on these room tests in the ‘By the Numbers’ bulletins.
  • Demarcate eating zones (as suggested in previous Townhall)
  • How will faculty know if the room they are teaching in has been tested for its air quality or if the filter in that room has been upgraded? What happens when faculty find they are assigned a classroom that has not been tested for air quality?  Will faculty be able to request a test? Will faculty be able to request alternate room assignments if the room they are teaching in is inadequate? 
  • Ensure there are enough door staff who are scanning vaccination QR codes of all individuals entering buildings 
  • What are the plans for addressing traffic flow in/out of buildings and classrooms. In particular floors 5 & 6 at 100 McCaul. The elevators were too small to carry high volumes of people prior to covid. 
  • What should faculty/staff do if someone refuses to wear a mask? People need direction/guidance
  • Provide N95 masks to the University community and insure there is information available to train people on how to properly use these masks
  • Make the 12 week testing kits readily available to everyone in our commumity – students, faculty and staff. 

OCADFA recognizes the decisions made for the winter term were made under duress.   We ask that these decisions foreground faculty mental health, workload and student learning experience. We don’t think cramming the instructional period, at the loss of our winter break or assessment time, is the right way to go. It is however heartening to see our Administration respond boldly to an ever-changing crisis.

We have shared our concerns with Administration and will continue the dialogue at Joint Committee meetings. If you have any questions, concerns or comments please contact myself or OCADFA ED Graeme Reniers.  

In Solidarity,

Min Sook Lee