COVID-19: Faculty union seeks vaccine mandate at Western University

The union representing 1,500 faculty members along with dozens of librarians and archivists at Western University is calling on the London, Ont. school to implement a campus-wide COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

On Tuesday, the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) called on Western administration “to require all eligible students, staff, faculty, librarians and archivists to be fully vaccinated before coming to campus, acknowledging that some may be exempt for medical or religious reasons.”

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The call comes a day after the Ministry of Colleges and Universities said post-secondary institutions in Ontario should prepare for all in-person classes and activities to resume this fall without capacity limits or physical distancing.

The province is also asking those institutions to have plans for how learning will continue in the event of COVID-19 outbreaks.

UWOFA president Nigmendra Narain says many faculty members have been urging the union to push for a vaccine mandate, citing concerns that in-person classes without physical distancing or capacity limits could lead to outbreaks.

As of Tuesday evening, Western requires students living in residence to receive full vaccinations, with those students encouraged to get their second dose before arriving on campus, but Narain says it isn’t enough.

“The classroom and the environment on campus, labs and so forth, where the students are where our (union) members are, that’s also their workplace,” Narain said. “UWOFA asserts that everyone has a right to a safe work and learning environment on campus.”

UWOFA president Nigmendra Narain.

UWOFA president Nigmendra Narain.

University of Western Ontario Faculty Association

Narain adds that the consequences of Western failing to implement a vaccine mandate could spill into other parts of the London community.

“When (faculty) leave, when they go home to their families and their loved ones, when they go out into the community, they want to know that it’s been a safe place that they’ve been in and that it’s a safe place when they leave as well,” Narain said.

Narain says discussions with Western on a safe return to school in the fall have been going on throughout the summer, but there are still uncertainties surrounding how that plan will look.

“Without a clear indication that the classroom they’re coming into is going to be safe… it’s going to be difficult for them to do the type of learning and produce the type of environment for their students to actually engage with this learning,” Narain added.

“When folks are worried about the classroom, the safety protocol, the information that we’ve been asking about for ventilation and other things like that… what they’re not focusing on in that regard is learning in the classroom.

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Western did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday prior to publication, however in an update shared on its website the same day, the school said it “strongly encourages all members of the campus community to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”

The university says it plans to provide an on-campus vaccination and testing centre later this summer at Western’s Graphic Services Building.

The site will provide first and second doses for students, staff and faculty.

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