As McGill prepared to return to campus earlier this year, it became increasingly clear that guidelines given by the administration did not particularly favour the wishes of students and faculties. Several weeks into the semester, these concerns continue to develop. This is the third installment of the Daily’s recurring column exploring the relationship between McGill administration and the broader McGill community.
Mode of Instruction in the Faculty of Arts
In late October, a motion was passed in the Faculty of Arts council affirming the faculty’s authority to determine the mode and method of instruction. The motion was authored by Rine Vieth, the Arts Faculty Council’s (AFC) Post-Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS) Representative, and was first presented to the faculty council on September 28. It specifically concerns “whether Arts Faculty Council shall affirm and exercise its jurisdiction to oversee the content and method of delivery of its courses, including through hybrid, blended, and alternative means during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
In the background and rationale of the motion, Vieth highlighted the August 29 memo from Provost Manfredi and its problematic implications of mandating faculty to teach in person. Additionally, the motion cites faculty and students’ concerns about the implementation of McGill’s health measures, including but not limited to “a lack of vaccination or testing mandates; inadequate ventilation; inadequate contact tracing; overcrowded classrooms; and planning and scheduling which has made hallway distancing impossible.”
The motion further reasons that neither the Statutes of McGill nor the relevant Senate regulations (found in article six of the Statutes) provide the Dean or Provost of a faculty with independent jurisdiction over the content or mode of instruction of courses. Instead, writes Vieth, Article 7.5 of the Statutes gives the Faculty Council the authority to “control the courses of study and the academic work of the faculty, and provide rules governing the arrangement of its timetable and examinations and the conduct of its meetings.”
The motion, now passed, resolves that the Arts Faculty council has jurisdiction to “oversee the design and mode of delivery of courses by recognizing instructor discretion to teach through various modes, including hybrid, blended and alternative methods, during the COVID-19 pandemic.” As of now, the Faculty of Arts is the only faculty to affirm its jurisdiction to do so.
The motion additionally outlines the creation of an ad hoc committee within the AFC, composed of representatives from the Arts Undergraduate Society, graduate student representatives from the AFC, and professors. The role of the committee is to establish guidelines for any courses delivered through hybrid, blended, and alternative modes of instruction, and to ensure that student and teaching staff needs and concerns regarding COVID-19 are properly addressed.
Transition from Emergency Response to Recovery and Resumption
On November 1, an email sent to McGill staff and students announced that the University’s COVID-19 response would no longer be coordinated by McGill’s Emergency Operations Centre (EOC), and instead will now be coordinated by the Recovery and Operations Resumptions Committee (ROR).
The EOC has been activated since January 2020 to navigate the university through the pandemic. The committee is a component of McGill’s larger emergency management framework. It was originally designed to coordinate the university’s response to emergencies spanning over a period of days or weeks – not a months-long pandemic. The committee was spearheaded by Fabrice Labeau, Deputy Provost and planning chief of the EOC. The EOC reported directly to Policy Group, a subset of the senior leadership to the university, and was responsible for communications, including regular Media Relations Office emails and updates to McGill’s Coronavirus website.
As of November 1, all COVID-19-related issues and initiatives are led by the ROR. The new committee will be co-chaired by the Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) and the Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs), who will oversee “decentralized functional groups.” According to the November 1 email, “these groups, with leads assigned based on their regular roles within the University, will be responsible for specific areas of expertise to help make decisions to move our campus forward.” Within the new ROR structure, co-chairs will report jointly to the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) and the Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance), who will report to the Principal and Vice-Chancellor.
In the November 1 email, university administration stated that McGill’s current status of emergency was changed due to several reasons; they cited the announcement that Quebec will lift its state of emergency in early 2022, “a more stable epidemiological situation in Quebec in general,” low case counts on campus, high vaccination rates, and the “successful return of academic activities back to in-person.” The email stressed, however, that this does not mean McGill is returning to normal. “The COVID-19 situation can change very quickly, and our continued vigilance is critical to ensuring the stability of the situation across our campuses,” they wrote. Since the announcement, ten new cases have been reported on campus, compared to zero reported cases the previous week.
“I am generally in favour [of the transition] but do not find it goes far enough,” wrote Richard Gold, Professor in the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Medicine, in an email to the Daily. The mandate to turn decision making over to the EOC at the beginning of the pandemic was rushed and not adequately advised; the EOC had no expertise in public health, and largely ignored experts with which it consulted, Gold alleged. While the end of the EOC’s management represents a return to collegial governance, Gold still has reservations. “I worry that the ROR seems, in many respects, to be the EOC under a different name,” he wrote, “Time will tell if this is the case.”
COVID-19 Rapid Testing Project
On October 29, McGill announced its voluntary COVID-19 rapid testing project for asymptomatic people. As of November 8, any asymptomatic McGill student, faculty, or staff member will be able to receive a rapid antigen detection test. Participants perform the swab test themselves with guidance from trained staff, and receive results within 15 to 20 minutes.
According to the press release, there will be the capacity to conduct between four to eight tests per 20-minute period. They underline that “there is a higher likelihood of false positive results” from rapid antigen tests, therefore test results from this pilot project cannot be used as proof of a negative test result for travel or other purposes; no paper or form with results will be given to participants to walk away with. Following any positive result from the rapid antigen test, participants must agree to get a PCR test from an authorized testing site and to self-isolate.
The project is being implemented months into student demands for increased safety measures on campus, namely an implementation of a vaccine mandate and rapid testing infrastructure on par with other universities. Communications state that “this pilot project is not intended to replace existing health measures for McGill, such as masking and distancing.”
This testing initiative is open to anyone on campus who is asymptomatic but wishes to be tested. The press release stresses that “anyone displaying COVID-19 symptoms must follow public health guidelines and should not be coming to campus.”
Testing is available from Monday through Friday, 12:00-17:00 in the cafeteria of the Trottier Engineering Building.