Universities

Licensed university professor enforces COVID mandates

The province has told universities they no longer need to have COVID-19 vaccination policies – but at least one university is still firing employees who haven’t complied.

The University of Waterloo fired at least one professor this week and, along with McMaster University, is still pursuing disciplinary action against employees for not being vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph have placed non-compliant staff and faculty on unpaid leave and once proof of vaccination is no longer required, the former plans to invite employees to return to work, while the second says cases will be individually assessed

As Ontario eases public health restrictions — this week it lifted mandatory masking requirements in most public spaces — universities are navigating what to do about their own policies and those that are affected by them.

“Ontario’s public universities and colleges are separate legal entities responsible for developing policies and procedures to govern the academic and administrative affairs of their institution,” said James Tinajero, spokesperson for the Ministry of Colleges and Universities. . This includes implementing health and safety measures on their campuses, he said.

“In light of this, the minister does not direct or interfere with facility decisions related to their vaccination policies.”

Prior to the start of the academic year, Ontario universities have implemented mandatory vaccination policies requiring students, staff and faculty on campus to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, unless they are exempt. In some schools, action against those who did not follow the rules amounted to unpaid leave, while in others it resulted in dismissal.

In recent weeks, the province has eased restrictions as part of its reopening plan and on March 1, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health said post-secondary institutions no longer need to have vaccination policies. . But universities and colleges have opted to maintain their vaccination and masking policies until at least the end of the current winter term to minimize uncertainty and disruption for students and staff.

In recent days, schools such as the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, McMaster University and the University of Guelph have indicated that they will suspend mask and vaccination requirements on May 1 for the spring/summer session. Meanwhile, schools such as Queen’s University, University of Toronto, Western University, Ryerson University and York University have not announced any changes.

The Confederation of University Teachers’ Associations of Ontario – the voice of 17,000 university professors and university librarians – says it is concerned that decisions about health and safety on campuses continue to be made without proper consultation with teachers.

“Decisions about what will happen beyond May 1, when universities have signaled that many protective measures will be lifted, must be made with the advice of local public health authorities and the participation of institutional joint health committees. and security,” said Sue Wurtele, President of OCUFA. .

As the Waterloo Region Record first reported, the University of Waterloo this week fired Michael Palmer, a chemistry professor who has worked there for more than two decades, because he chose not to vaccinate. The filing also noted that he was aware that at least two other professors and a lecturer were at risk of being fired.

Although the province has revoked its instructions to universities and its own rules on vaccinations change in a month, the University of Waterloo says it is important to continue ongoing disciplinary action.

“If an employee has been insubordinate repeatedly, it doesn’t matter if the situation changes. It was their behavior at one point,” university president and vice-chancellor Vivek Goel told The Star.

“If you’re not able to use discipline to enforce the rules in your workplace, that puts you in a difficult position in the future when you have another situation where you have to force employees to follow. certain rules… We gave people a lot of notice, over months of communications that this was going to be our requirement in our workplace, and at the time, these people did not comply.

Goel noted that some people have already been fired from college, so it wouldn’t be appropriate to suddenly change the process for some due to timing.

A university spokesperson did not reveal how many staff and faculty still face disciplinary proceedings for not being vaccinated, but said it was a handful. The process involves a series of escalating suspensions, starting with paid leave, then unpaid leave, then dismissal. As of March 24, Waterloo had fired 49 staff and faculty for not being vaccinated. It approved medical and creed-based accommodations for 123 students and 47 staff.

Meanwhile, at McMaster, as of March 25, fewer than 50 regular full-time and part-time employees had been fired for violating vaccination policy. There is still one employee who is facing disciplinary action for failing to comply with the vaccination mandate.

At Laurier and the University of Guelph, no one was fired for non-compliance, but they were placed on unpaid leave. Laurier says those with active contracts will be asked to return to work in person on May 1. Meanwhile, in Guelph, the approximately 40 non-compliant employees have been told that their situation will be dealt with individually by their supervisors.

York University says its policy states that employees who are required on campus and who do not comply with the university’s vaccination mandate “may be placed on full or partial leave without pay.”

When asked if anyone on furlough would be called back to work, a spokesperson said York is “carefully considering evolving government and public health guidance as part of our decision-making for the summer term and beyond”.

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