Faculty and staff at post-secondary institutions across the province are calling on the Alberta government for better protection for themselves and their students against COVID-19.
In a letter sent to Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides, eight faculty association presidents called for a province-wide vaccine mandate for all post-secondary campuses, akin to what other Canadian jurisdictions have done.
They are calling for the reinstatement of contact tracing, commitment to mandatory quarantine, improvement of compliance and continuous funding of public health measures.
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The faculty associations also want to have better information from the province on how to implement public health measures.
“The biggest reason we wrote this letter is because we feel that health decisions have been offloaded onto the institutions at great cost,” Shauna MacDonald, NAIT academic staff association president, told Global News.
Presidents of eight faculty associations representing roughly 3,500 members in Edmonton, Calgary, Olds, Red Deer and Medicine Hat co-signed the letter that was sent to the advanced education minister.
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The letter comes after faculty members watched the province remove restrictions and COVID-19 cases rise afterwards.
And as classes started, there were serious concerns about the safety of students, staff and faculty.
“When it comes down to the safety of our members and the safety of the students and the safety of the community in general, we do believe that this is a way to ensure a safe workspace for faculty members, students and employees alike,” SAIT academic faculty association president Blair Howes said.
“We are blindly going (into a classroom) — and in good faith — that everybody is OK and we don’t know that.”
Post-secondary institutions (PSIs) who do not implement the provincial restrictions exemption program or aren’t covered by Calgary’s Vaccine Passport Bylaw require masking and physical distancing. That would impair in-person delivery of technical programs that require hands-on instruction, for example.
“We really did feel like our institutions are being placed into a really unfair situation where they started to have to act almost like their own chief public health officers in the facilitation of their own spaces, and we see what’s come of that,” NorQuest College faculty association president Alexandru Caldararu told Global News.
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In a statement, Minister Nicolaides’ press secretary Laurie Chandler said many of the co-signed post-secondary institutions (PSIs) have adopted their own vaccine mandates to work, attend or visit campuses.
“Should any PSI choose not to implement a proof of vaccination requirement system, they will be subject to the public health restrictions as outlined by the Chief Medical Officer of Health,” Chandler said.
In calling for sustained provincial funding for pandemic measures through the pandemic, the letter said “it is not reasonable to download the cost of implementing public health protocols onto the backs of individual workers, students, and/or institutions who wish to go above and beyond in the fight against COVID-19.”
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“The cost of fully implementing a government mandate is not free,” Caldararu said, noting schools would have to shoulder costs for things like legal opinions, research, enforcement, contact tracing and testing.
“It’s essentially going to be on their time and their dime, with no help from the provincial government,” Caldararu said.
“And obviously, the bigger you are, the more money you’re going to have on that. But it’s unfair to put that on any one institution just because one happens to be bigger than the other.
“This is a provincial responsibility.”
MacDonald doesn’t expect any direct response to the letter from the advanced education minister, but hopes he would advocate within government for the faculty associations.
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“I would hope that he would reach out to the institutions and re-open some conversations and see what kind of support they need,” she said.
A wide variety of opinions are held by members of the faculty associations, and that was recognized by the presidents Global News spoke with.
“It’s not about whether somebody should or shouldn’t get the vaccine, but rather does this constitute a safe workplace? Because safety is paramount,” Howes said.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a staff member or a student, you have a right to be safe in your place of studying or in your place of employment.”
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