A (somewhat) normal back-to-school

U of W campus reopens after year of online learning

After more than a year of almost no in-person classes, the University of Winnipeg is open for vaccinated students at a limited capacity. (Daniel Crump)

After more than a year of closure, the University of Winnipeg (U of W) reopened its doors to students and instructors on Sept. 7. This long-awaited return to on-campus instruction comes after the 2020-21 academic year, which was delivered almost entirely online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This is not an entirely normal back-toschool season, however. The world has changed since March 2020, when the campus was last open, and the U of W has had to adapt. Approximately half of all courses are still delivered online. Furthermore, numerous safety protocols are in place.

The road to implementing these policies was rather rocky. As late as last month, the U of W administration was still debating whether mandatory COVID-19 vaccination should be introduced. Finally, a vaccine mandate was announced on Aug. 19, largely thanks to the University of Winnipeg Faculty Association’s (UWFA) pressure.

Ryan Dueck, an honours student in the sociology program, is taking both in-person and online courses this semester. He approves of the U of W’s policies on masks and vaccines.

“I am satisfied with the eventual decision and am grateful to the (UWFA) for  applying pressure to get it done,” he says in a message to The Uniter. However, Dueck is “disappointed that it took so long to make the decision.”

Peter Miller, president of UWFA, says he is pleased the U of W finally announced vaccine and mask mandates. He adds that it is important for faculty members to feel comfortable with their choice to either teach in person or online.

“The faculty association’s perspective on this has been: we want faculty members to have a large degree of say in their working conditions,” Miller says, since “different faculty members have different opinions of safety.”

“Our concern beyond the vaccine mandate and mask mandate is to make sure that faculty members could make these decisions based on their comfort and safety levels that are informed by their family and personal situation.”

The U of W has allowed this flexibility for faculty members for the fall term. However, there is still some uncertainty about what will happen if the COVID-19 situation changes, and instructors want to move their in-person classes online.

Miller, an associate professor of classics who is teaching one in-person class, is looking forward to the fall semester.

“I’ve been eager to come back to campus to work and teach, and I know that I have a small class, so I thought, given the rollout of the vaccines, that would be reasonable.”

Though students and instructors are welcome on campus, they will have to enter at designated building access points. This will allow the administration to verify vaccination status and control of the flow of people on campus.

Dueck, who was a U of W student throughout the past year of online learning, has been satisfied with the education he has received during the pandemic.

“I was quite impressed with the profs I had and their ability to spring into action and make this work,” he says.

Information on the U of W’s response to COVID-19 can be found at uwinnipeg.ca/covid-19.

Published in Volume 76, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 9, 2021)

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