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Laurentian plans fall return to campus, but won't require COVID-19 vax for residences

'Health and safety come absolutely first for everyone at Laurentian, and we will not be doing anything that puts people at unnecessary risk,' President Robert Haché tells university senate

As COVID-19 infections go down and vaccination rates go up, Laurentian University is planning for a return to face-to-face classes in the fall.

The normal status for instruction at the university is face-to-face classes, Laurentian president Robert Haché reminded those attending the June 15 Laurentian Senate meeting.

He said a detailed plan for a return to campus will be put out by the university tomorrow (June 16). 

“We will absolutely be following the best public health advice in doing this as we have done throughout this process,” said Haché, who was questioned by Senate members about everything from classroom ventilation to vaccination policies.

“Health and safety come absolutely first for everyone at Laurentian, and we will not be doing anything that puts people at unnecessary risk.”

He said the university is clearly hearing from students “the desire to return to campus,” and said applications for residence are well above what was expected.

Haché did acknowledge there are challenges for international students in particular when it comes to this plan, and said “we are going to be working through the summer” on issues such as these.

He said there is interest in “hybrid instruction” (a mix of in-person and virtual learning), and promised Laurentian would be as flexible as possible in meeting the needs of students.

“Laurentian, of course, is not an outlier in this,” Haché said. “There are many institutions that are planning for a face-to-face return to campus.”

Although some Ontario universities have required those living in residence to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Haché revealed Laurentian isn’t requiring vaccinations at this point.

Laurentian nursing professor Christina McMillan-Boyles said she was surprised LU had taken this position. She said there is an opportunity for Laurentian to become a “leader” with respect to encouraging the uptake of vaccinations.

Haché said most universities in Ontario are actually taking a position similar to Laurentian’s when it comes to vaccination.

“At the present time, there is neither legislation nor public health directives to require vaccinations,” he said, adding that Laurentian will, however, be running a campaign to encourage vaccination among the LU community. 

“And while one can attempt to put in a regulation, there is no real ability of the university to enforce it.”

As a preventative measure, students living in residence will continue to be housed in single rooms for the 2021-2022 school year, Haché said.

Psychology professor Josée Turcotte said when she hears about the new, “scarier” COVID-19 variants, she becomes “a bit more resistant to go on campus.”

“There are big classes that are using Fraser, for instance, and I don’t know how we’re going to make it work,” she said. “It’s not just a question of distance, because actually with the new variants, it’s way worse than what the first version was.”

Haché, a molecular and cellular biologist and biochemist by training, explained that as far as he’s read, the COVID-19 vaccine is effective against all the known variants, and protects people from receiving or spreading the virus.

“I don’t want to cause angst for anyone here, but we are going to do everything we possibly can, within the best possible health guidance, to bring people back to campus, not any sooner than we should, but when we should, when we can, in a safe manner,” he said.

Students’ General Association president Eric Chappell said over the past couple of months, he’s been meeting with students and talking about their experiences during this difficult time.

Most of the conversations he’s had have been split between the impacts of Laurentian’s insolvency and restructuring “and their request to return to campus.”

“There is a minority group within the student population where there is some challenges on daycare, international students, and there are some non-traditional learners that do have some challenges,” he said.

“But the vast majority are a very strong voice on saying online is not working for them.”