Following the declaration of the COVID-19 virus as a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), the concerns surrounding the issue significantly increased. The faculty, staff, and students of the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) were also troubled by the news and had some worries regarding how the administration would respond.
The University of Toronto (U of T), with its three campuses, was one of the last major Ontario universities to announce its cancellation of in-person classes and the switch to online sessions.
Before this information was released, some members of the UTM community expressed concerns regarding the administration’s approach to the outbreak and how the state of the university’s policies was not flexible enough to ensure the safety of students, staff, and faculty.
Assistant professor Neda Maghbouleh tweeted out on Monday, February 10, regarding her discontent with the university’s responses thus far, stating that the messages released by the institution were “not working.”
“Students who have traveled recently & admit feeling unwell are coming to classes anyway. What are untenured & precarious profs supposed to do? I really want to know,” tweeted Maghbouleh.
David Pettinicchio, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology, is one of the few course instructors who made the transition to online classes before the official decision of the university.
In an email sent out to students, Pettinicchio stated that he believes “reducing the amount of large group contact and frequent interaction with many individuals is the responsible thing to do at this moment.”
“It is also my understanding that epidemiologists and public health officials are discouraging large gatherings and frequent contact wherever possible and I believe this approach is useful in promoting everyone’s health and safety at this time,” continued Pettinicchio.
Before the cancellation of all in-person courses, the UTM administration implemented a temporary waiver of doctor’s notes when declaring an absence; however, some divisions do have additional conditions.
The self-declaration of sick notes has been an ongoing initiative of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) since the previous summer semester.
“We’re hoping to have it fully piloted by all departments across campus but we’re still trying to push to have that implemented, whether that’s going to be next semester or even in the summer,” stated UTMSU vice-president of University Affairs & Academics Miguel Cabral earlier this year in an interview with The Medium.
The UTMSU also released a statement of their own a couple of hours after the university’s official announcement. According to this statement, the union had discussed the options for student accommodation with Amrita Daniere, vice principal of Academic and Dean at UTM.
“Members are encouraged to reach out to their undergraduate advisors and department chairs to discuss academic accommodations,” stated the UTMSU. “In situations where online course delivery is not accessible for a student, the university will try to arrange different accommodations.”
Under these new circumstances, if a change to the course syllabus were to be implemented, such as an alteration of a deadline or an exam date, the change must be voted on by the students who are taking the course.
The UTMSU has also announced the cancellation of all major events that were scheduled to take place before April 3. The Clubs and Societies Formal, the in-person tax clinics, the 2020 UTMSU Block Party and many other events have been canceled until further notice.