The administration of Trent University thinks that hundreds of students packed into lecture halls is safe. If it’s truly safe now, why won’t the Trent administration hold their own meetings in person? Yes, they have chosen to hold many of their meetings online or remotely, but have denied that option for everyone else.
COVID-19 remains a significant risk. Relying on the Omicron variant causing milder disease is deeply misguided.[i] One contagious person with this variant will go on to infect at least five others, and so on. There are still significant uncertainties about Omicron and the risk of developing Long COVID.[ii]
All students, faculty, and staff must have the incontestable option to learn and work online or remotely. There must be no academic penalty for students choosing not to attend class in person; there must be no repercussions for instructors accommodating students who are not physically present in class, nor for instructors who opt to continue teaching online. Fleming College understands that safety is a primary concern; program delivery there is currently a mix of online, on-campus, and hybrid.[iii] Other institutions are offering the same.[iv] The ones that aren’t are seeing strong resistance from their communities.[v] Here at Trent, a student-led petition demanding an online Winter Term has garnered over 3400 signatures as of this writing.[vi] The students must be heard and respected. They must be given the choice to protect themselves and their families while continuing their studies. Instead of respecting students’ choice, Trent has thus far done the complete opposite, only confirming the January 31st return to in-person classes after the end of the business day on the last day that students could drop courses or switch to part-time and receive tuition refunds.
Trent is essentially taking the approach of the Ford Motor Company, treating its students, faculty, and staff as nothing more than income: infection, illness, and the serious complications that can arise from that are deemed an acceptable loss. For those unaware, Ford Pintos in the mid-1960s had a nasty habit of catching fire,[vii] immolation becoming an ever so slight inconvenience for its drivers. Rather than recall the defective vehicles immediately, Ford determined that it would be cheaper to lobby the government, deal with litigation, and just let the cars burst into flames for a while. Students, faculty, and staff are all being forced to drive Ford Pintos this Winter Term.
We sincerely hope that Trent doesn’t view us as expendable, but that conclusion is increasingly hard to avoid. We are not asking Trent to move to entirely online program delivery. All we want is for Trent to give its entire community the incontestable choice for online, on-campus, or hybrid learning and instruction, and to make this choice meaningful by allocating resources for enhancing safety and accessibility. Trent must not treat us as income, but as the human beings we are.
The CUPE 3908 Executive & The Trent Graduate Students’ Association Executive Team