MONTRÉAL, Jan. 18, 2022 - AGSEM, the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill, is strongly concerned about McGill University's decision to return to in-person activities on January 24th 2022, at least one week earlier than Concordia, Université de Montréal, or UQAM. We are asking the university to reconsider its decision.
After fluctuating for almost two years, COVID-19 cases have reached new peaks in Quebec and all over the world. On December 22nd and on multiple occasions in the past weeks–including during a meeting with McGill’s Principal Suzanne Fortier on January 6th–AGSEM strongly cautioned the university that mandating the return to in-person teaching too quickly would put teaching assistants and other members of the McGill community at a high risk of contracting the virus. The university refuses to listen to our recommendations. Since McGill is already prepared to deliver most courses remotely, AGSEM requests, once again, that the university opt for a precautionary approach by keeping teaching activities at fully or partially remote mode of delivery until sanitary conditions improve.
Furthermore, for the safety of our members and the whole McGill community, teaching assistants should be given a choice to perform their tasks remotely if they feel safer doing so, wherever possible. We understand that the organization of remote teaching activities can be challenging for many of our members. Nevertheless, the constant need for adjustments resulting from moving–or the anticipation of moving–between different learning environments poses even bigger challenges for teaching assistants. This is especially the case given that many of our members already experience discomfort and anxiety in response to the high risk of COVID-19 contagion.
In addition, we asked the university to provide N95 masks instead of surgical masks to those who would feel safer wearing them, and especially to those who work closely with students, for example in a laboratory setting. The university continues to refuse to provide these masks even though our members have requested them multiple times in the past. According to the AGSEM Collective Agreement, it is the employer’s responsibility to provide safety equipment.
Quote from one of our members worried about coming back in person:
"I'm disappointed and angry that the university would attempt this change so much sooner than is necessary. Of course online learning is isolating---so is being in a pandemic. The biggest threat to mental health from Covid is from illness, death, disability, and observing people in positions of power continue to make decisions which put people in danger. I'm seeing the hospitals in Montréal continue to strain and break and it's hard to believe that having classes in person will not exacerbate this."
Our members have expressed their concerns to us in the recent weeks. Many of them do not feel safe coming back to campus, especially without additional protective equipment and mitigation measures, while the current sanitary conditions persist and knowing that McGill university will not do any contact tracing in Winter 2022. They do not feel heard and demand that the university take these concerns seriously.
The AGSEM Executive Committee