On Feb. 23, McGill University announced their intention to return to in-person teaching for the Fall 2021 semester. The return to campus will be a gradual process, beginning with Tier 2 in-person activities which are currently being implemented during the Winter 2021 semester. The administration’s announcement raised many questions amongst students, but gave the McGill community some sense of certainty for the upcoming semester.
The university stated at a Feb. 26 press conference that the Quebec government has prioritized the return to in-person education to support students’ mental health and improve academic experiences. Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) Christopher Buddle detailed what McGill students can expect for the return to in-person classes.
“[For] larger lectures, there is a plan that those will be offered online for students,” Buddle said. “Other kinds of activities, [like] labs, tutorials, conferences […] will be planned for in-person, and most smaller classes will be planned for in-person as well [….] Some students might see a blended approach where some of the core components of the class might be online, with other components in person.”
Jemark Earle, Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President, was surprised by the announcement.
“Although I do think [this decision] was made a bit early, I do appreciate this advanced notice because it gives a lot of time to make this alternative planning,” Earle said. “It is hard to say if the decision was rushed [….] But it is also important this happened, since last year […], the decisions were made a bit too late.”
The university stated that it made their decision early to allow more time for preparation and to grant students a sense of certainty.
“One of the important pieces that came through in the discussions was the importance of a degree of certainty around what the expectations might be for the fall,” Buddle said. “It comes from some students [or] for potentially incoming students who are looking at a lot of different options for next fall as well and wanting to understand what the universities were doing. It might seem early to many in the community, but I think it’s really a signal that we are confident in our planning”
While Earle believes that many students are excited to return to campus, other organizations are concerned about the risk of exposing community members to COVID-19. Mario Roy, president of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), maintains that the university did not consult teaching assistants (TAs) on how the mandatory return to campus will impact them.
“We have not been consulted by McGill on this position even though we have requested many times to be consulted before taking such decisions,” Roy said. “Some of the TAs have been requested to come back to work in person and some have been consulted and agreed and in other cases, they weren’t consulted [….] [McGill] does not care about […] the family situation, they only care about the students or members themselves, they do not worry about the people they might be putting at risk.”
Although McGill has a plan in place for in-person academic activities, the rollout of extracurricular activities on campus remains uncertain. Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Fabrice Labeau explained that the degree of in-person activities allowed will depend on how the pandemic evolves.
“We will put a priority on our academic activities to be in-person,” Labeau said. “We will be continuing to plan with different possible scenarios. All the scenarios will have the teaching research components, the core academic activities, and then we will have all the other activities in the plans. In some of these scenarios, it won’t be possible to have an in-person Frosh, and in some other [scenarios], it will.”