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Photo courtesy King’s University College

Vaccines to be required at university residences

  • June 4, 2021

After a year of Zoom classes, Catholic colleges and universities across Canada are more than hoping for a fresh, in-person start this fall. As vaccinations roll out, they’re planning for it.

King’s University College and Brescia University College — the Catholic colleges at Western University in London, Ont. — will ensure their campuses can get back to normal by requiring proof of vaccination from all students living in their residences.

“We must make sure that we follow every precaution that we have, and every regulation, so that students and staff are safe,” said Brescia interim principal Cheryl Jensen. “All of our students matter to us.”

But the policy is about much more than just health and safety, Jensen said.

“We know that the university experience, any post-secondary experience, is about more than just getting grades. It’s all about interacting with people, sharing ideas, creating knowledge. That’s best done, as we all know, in person,” she said.

“We are social animals. Zooms can only go so far,” said King’s principal David Malloy.

For Catholic colleges specializing in the arts and humanities, where debate, discernment and discussion hold the keys to the Catholic intellectual tradition, live classes are essential, said Malloy.

“Our essence is small, intimate, close, face-to-face interaction,” he said. “We’re a human institution.”

In Manitoba, where Intensive Care Units have been overwhelmed and critical patients are being flown out of province, St. Paul’s College is being cautious about the prospects for in-person classes.

“We aren’t opening for in-person classes this fall, except for classes of 20 or less,” said St. Paul’s rector Chris Adams.

The caution isn’t necessarily a reflection of the dire circumstances currently in Manitoba, said Adams. The fall re-opening policies for the University of Manitoba, where St. Paul’s is an affiliated Catholic college, were set a month before the latest COVID-19 wave hit. Adams believes the university community will be looking at a different situation come September.

“Everybody is hopeful here that we will be in good shape by August,” he said.

As far as Adams is concerned, online learning is not ideal.

“The professors in our college are frustrated (by) relying on Zoom,” he said. “The cafeteria is a mausoleum right now. Everybody really wants to see people back.”

At the University of St. Michael’s College, in line with the rest of the University of Toronto, hope is that the majority of classes will be taught live, face-to-face, on campus starting Sept. 9. The university is waiting on guidance from the provincial government to determine whether courses currently scheduled for real-life classrooms may need to begin online and then transition to in-person during the fall.

As an independent university, St. Mary’s in Calgary is trying to co-ordinate its policies with the other 25 post-secondary institutions in Alberta, said St. Mary’s president and vice-chancellor Gerry Turcotte.

“We are ensuring that we have strict protocols on campus when we return in person in the fall,” guided by provincial regulations, said Turcotte in an e-mail.

Turcotte points out a variety of policy options emerging among Alberta universities, including a vaccination requirement for student athletes at Edmonton’s Concordia University and an offer of tuition credits to students at the University of Lethbridge who can show they’ve been vaccinated.

For any student who doesn’t want to provide proof of vaccination, Brescia will happily provide information about off-campus housing, said Jensen.

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