On March 10, students from various Canadian universities launched online petitions urging their administrations to consider suspending all in-person classes.
These petitions have since gathered thousands of signatures.
After seeing the University of Washington’s success with its petition, McGill University’s Ready McGill, a student-run emergency preparedness initiative, initiated the movement in Canada with an online petition on Change.org to suspend all in-person instruction and shift to online lectures. The petition is now closed and reached nearly 9,000 signatures.
Ready McGill said they were disappointed by McGill’s “wait-and-see approach.”
“[McGill University administrators] want us to get sick first before they would consider cancelling school, which might be politically convenient for the administrators, but really disastrous for us the students and faculty,” Ready McGill wrote in a statement to The Concordian.
Comments are flooding the online petitions, some criticizing the universities’ business-as-usual attitude despite the high possibility of a widespread outbreak on campus.
Concordia University and the University of Toronto followed suit and launched their own petitions after seeing the traction McGill’s was getting, garnering 11,000 and just under 19,000 signatures, respectively.
“I am a student concerned for not only my health but the health of those around me,” wrote Concordia journalism and political science student Caitlin Yardley in the comment section of the petition. “I live in a building with predominantly elderly people and although I would likely recover from contracting the virus, my neighbours might not. For the health of the community, please suspend classes.”
“A lot of students are quite concerned about the situation. And of course, everyone wants to protect their own health and safety first,” said the president of the Students’ Society of McGill University, Bryan Buraga, in an interview with The Concordian.
“The level of extent to which they believe that the university should close varies,” Buraga added. But he feels that there is a “prevailing sense” from the students that the university should cancel in-person classes.
Concordia philosophy student David Becker created Concordia’s version of the petition in hopes that the support and signatures it received would pressure the university’s administration to act.
“I think it is important that this becomes a story because most schools in North America are trying to find a solution to keep their students safe and Concordia doesn’t seem to be doing anything,” said Becker.
Over 200 U.S. universities including Harvard University, Columbia, MIT and UC Berkeley temporarily closed to prevent the possibility of transmission among their students.
Concordia spokesperson Vannina Maestracci released a statement about the university’s current course of action. The plan was to initially convert only six classes with over 250 students enrolled to online.
But after Legault announced Friday the shutdown of all Quebec daycares, elementary schools, high schools and universities until March 27, a statement was sent to all Concordia students that classes are to be cancelled until Monday, March 30 by the university’s president and vice-chancellor Graham Carr.
While the school is shutdown, Concordia professors will convert all in-class lectures to an online format by March 23, while the university prepares a plan for what comes after March 30 with the instructions from the ministries of education and public health. There are currently no updates regarding all exam schedules and the delivery of upcoming finals, but Concordia is working on a plan for students to complete the winter semester.
“We are finalizing a plan to allow us to deliver instruction online through a variety of technologies such as Zoom, that we have in place,” Maestracci said. Zoom is a video conferencing software on which university professors can hold their lectures and meetings with students online. New York University and University of Washington converted some of the classes to online instruction using Zoom.
Both campuses at Sir George Williams and Loyola are closed to all students as of Friday, March 13. Concordia employees began working remotely on necessary university operations during the shutdown.
While school is cancelled, it is recommended to frequently wash your hands with soap, avoid sharing utensils and other personal items, and keep a social distance from others for the next upcoming weeks according to the Gouvernement du Quebec.
Graphic by @sundaeghost