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McGill Senate Advocates for More COVID-19 Regulations

Passes motion for establishment of Ad Hoc Advisory Committee

On September 22, the McGill University Senate passed a motion that they say looks to further student protection against COVID-19 and increase student involvement in administrative decision-making regarding the pandemic. Part of SSMU’s prolonged battle with the University’s administration over COVID-19 regulations, the motion advances two initiatives: a first resolution that “urges the University to adopt measures beyond those currently in place to help prevent the spread of COVID infection,” and a second resolution that “proposes the creation of an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee of Senate on COVID Academic Planning and Policies (“Ad Hoc Advisory Committee”).”

Efforts by McGill’s student body to ramp up protective measures against the raging pandemic have been ongoing for sometime now: an earlier motion was presented to the Senate Steering Committee at its September 2021 meeting which, if passed, would have required the Senate to “urge the implementation of a proof of vaccination against COVID-19 requirement for all students, faculty and staff seeking access to the McGill classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and indoor research or study spaces.” Despite these  appeals, McGill has not updated their policies; the University’s website affirms their commitment to no vaccine mandates of any kind, referencing worries about their ability to “legally require [mandates] in the Québec context” without government intervention. 

The Senate’s first resolution, which advocates for a proof of vaccine requirement, serves as the accumulation of months of student and faculty pleas for more protection against a virus that has claimed the lives of more than 28,000 Canadians to date. The passed resolution looks to an August 16 letter addressed to Principal Suzanne Fortier, Provost Christopher Manfredi, and Chair of McGill’s Board of Governors Ram Panda, where members of the Faculty of Law evaluate the legality of a vaccine mandate. In their August 23 letter, faculty members explain that “experts in law […] have long noted that requiring proof of vaccination is not the same as imposing an obligation to get a vaccine.” They conclude that a proof of vaccine requirement should simply be considered an “internal regulation – like requiring protective clothing when working in a university lab,” that aims to advance the safety of students and staff on McGill’s campus. The group also found that McGill’s anti-mandate commitment renders the institution susceptible to legal claims that “the present policy discriminates against disabled students, staff and faculty,” as they argue a lack of mandate discriminates against those with a disability contrary to Article 10 of the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The first resolution also broadly advances the Senate’s earlier attempt to urge further public health measures – the Senate Steering Committee did not include the prior motion on its agenda since some elements of the proposed resolution “did not fall within Senate’s jurisdiction,” according to writing in the second motion. Notably, the first motion’s appendix included recommendations to implement the following provisions:

  1.  Establish daily COVID-19 vaccination sites on campus and allow vaccination registration on campus until demand wanes.
  1.  Establish SARS-CoV-2 testing sites on campus and implement a routine testing program to identify asymptomatic cases
  1. Provide short and long-term accommodations for all who are at risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes due to pre-existing health conditions, including those who are immunocompromised or have other significant health concerns and those who live with family members at increased risk for these reasons
  1.  Ensure that all individuals remain masked in McGill classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and indoor research or study spaces and that instructors remain masked while teaching to prevent transmission within the classroom. 
  1.  Improve ventilation sufficiently in ALL classroom spaces to meet occupational health guidelines, including those spaces without mechanical ventilation. 
  1. Implement physical distancing in classrooms and density maximums in classrooms until evidence demonstrates that the epidemiologic situation in Quebec is stable.
  1. Ensure that classes are notified if anyone who attended the class tests positive for SARS-CoV-2 so that individuals can monitor themselves for symptoms and minimize the potential that they could transmit to their families.
  1. Increase transparency of the reporting about SARS-CoV-2 positive tests, COVID-19 symptoms, and COVID-19 vaccination rates by implementing a comprehensive dashboard that tracks these metrics twice weekly and making these data available publicly online.
  1. Respect the right of faculty members in collaboration with their chairs/directors to make decisions about how they teach, including the mode of instruction.

While the passed resolution did not name specific requests, it still advocates for measures beyond those currently in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  The newly created committee will meet weekly throughout the 2021-2022 academic year, aiming to work with “the University’s senior administration on COVID related decisions” like “academic planning,” advising members on “how such decisions can be most effectively communicated and implemented.” The committee will consist of: The Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) (who will serve as Co-chair); The Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) (who will serve as Co-chair); The Director of McGill’s Teaching and Learning services (TLS); and six student Senators. The Advisory Committee encourages “feedback on matters from members of the McGill community” and will “respond to [any feedback] through the University Senate.”

The passage of this motion is part of SSMU’s advocacy for COVID-19 safety which dates from before the beginning of this semester. The Daily will continue to cover SSMU’s dealings with administration as the story unfolds.

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