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U of T comes under heavy criticism for reopening plan

The University of Toronto is being criticized on social media this week by faculty, students and alumni for its controversial reopening plan which, unlike most other Ontario universities, includes in-person classes. 

U of T professor David Fisman posted a lengthy Twitter thread yesterday detailing what he's been told about the school's plans to reopen thus far, and he also indicated that many of his colleagues direct messaged him to confirm the accuracy of these plans.

"The decision on how courses should be taught, including the decision to push faculty to teach in person has been delegated to individual faculties," he wrote. "Some faculties are pressuring profs to teach in person."

In the thread, Fisman wrote that the distancing requirement for in-person learning is that classrooms must be at a maximum of 25 per cent occupancy, meaning it would be possible to have 200 students, a professor and a TA in a closed, indoor space this fall, as long as the room is at no more than 25 per cent capacity.

"The technical term for this is 'batshit,'" Fisman quipped of this rule.

He said the undergraduate faculty of arts and sciences has decided on a dual delivery model, and all courses with less than 200 students will have a mandatory in-class component. 

According to the professor, the school's plan indicates that students will be able to choose between in-person or online learning, but once they've made this choice they will not be permitted to change their minds.

Students who choose digital classes will not be permitted to come to class in-person, and students who choose the in-person option will be strongly encouraged to actually show up since they will be taking up one of the few spots in these courses, unless of course they are feeling sick.

"Some individual department chairs within FAS have supported faculty in requests for online teaching. Others have not," he said.

Based on several direct messages Fisman said he received from colleagues, he also specified there is a degree of faculty-to-faculty and campus-to-campus variation — though these rules tend to generally apply in most faculties to at least some degree.

In a release published at the beginning of July, U of T also announced they would be implementing a temporary measure that calls for non-medical masks or face coverings to be worn inside buildings that are normally publicly accessible, though this doesn't appear to include classrooms.

Meanwhile, Fisman and many other U of T community members are expressing serious concerns about the safety of the school's reopening plan. 

"If being extremely concerned about unsafe opening plans that endanger colleagues, students and staff makes me uncollegial, so be it, I suppose. Sorry," Fisman wrote at the end of the thread.

"I'm an alumnus. Do you think it would do any good if I yelled at U of T about this (i.e., sent them a polite but alarmed e-mail)?" asked one Twitter user, to which Fisman responded that yes, that would be helpful as alumni tend to have quite a bit of sway. 

"25% and 200 as arbitrary thresholds. What's the point in a university having a med school, a science faculty and an engineering school if you can't use your experts to make reasoned policy decisions that consider building design, public health and human behaviour?" asked another.

The fall semester is still a couple of months away, so only time will tell whether or not U of T will take any of these critiques into account when reopening its doors to students amid a global pandemic.

Lead photo by

Terry Alexander

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