In an email to the McGill community on Feb. 5, Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Fabrice Labeau announced that McGill would begin implementing some in-person activities on campus as early as Feb. 8. These in-person activities, called “Tier 2 academic activities,” are optional learning opportunities for students currently in the Montreal area who would like to return to campus.
The Ministry of Higher Education officially announced the gradual rollout of in-person learning activities in a press conference on Feb. 4. Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) Christopher Buddle told The McGill Tribune that the safety of students and staff will be prioritized during the roll out of Tier 2 teaching activities.
“Planning was […] done with strict adherence to all the public health directives and guidelines,” Buddle said. “That’s actually why some activities will take a little bit of time before they’re ready to go. We have to make sure that [all] the safety measures are in place [….] Students will be notified [about in-person activities] through their faculties and instructors in the coming days and weeks.”
A procedural mask mandate for indoor spaces on McGill’s campuses will be implemented along with pre-existing campus safety regulations. For Rachel Kalmanovich, U2 Arts, however, the prospect of a sudden return to in-person learning is daunting despite the difficulties of online classes.
“I’m generally a little bit nervous,” Kalmanovich said “When I signed up for [my] conference I wasn’t really expecting things to go in person. I definitely don’t think I feel comfortable being in an in-person space at this point in time.”
The administration cited the positive impact they believe returning to campus will have on students’ mental health as a driving force behind beginning Tier 2 in-person activities.
“For [some] students the ability to come to campus for some activities could be quite impactful and very important because we know that a lot of students are feeling quite isolated,” Buddle said. “An opportunity for some students to engage even just a little bit with the campus […] can be quite important for members of our community.”
While some academic activities will be offered under Tier 2, other student services, like clubs and some Wellness Hub services, will remain online.
“[Under] the new government directives, we are told that [McGill] can offer [student services] in person, based on demand,” Labeau said. “Our first couple of weeks are going to be really about gauging demand. We know that for the Wellness Hub there hasn’t been much demand for in-person mental health services. But [for] in-person physical health services, [we know] there was demand, so […] it’s going to be done on a case-by-case basis.”
The return to in-person teaching also came as a cause for concern for some educators at the university. Jessica Rose, grievance officer for the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM), voiced some of the union members’ concerns regarding the safety of in-person teaching.
“The university maintains that as long as their protocols are in place, and are being followed, that the environment is categorically safe,” Rose said. “Of course, protocols are simply a matter of behaviour and compliance […] so the question of whether or not they’re consistently maintained […] determines whether or not they consider the environment to be safe.”
Rose expressed frustrations with the McGill administration’s decision to implement in-person teaching.
“For people who have health concerns, there are procedures for accommodation which include […] the right to opt out of in-person teaching altogether and to teach remotely or to do other tasks as a TA without losing [your position],” Rose said. “But there are also other conditions that aren’t taken as seriously. [McGill has] been very explicit that if you have dependents who have health conditions, or if you live with somebody who has a health condition that puts them at greater risk for negative outcomes from COVID-19, they don’t care.”