At the May 31st Special General Meeting, the QUFA membership passed the following motion: “That QUFA negotiate with the University to maintain the mask mandate until October 1, 2022, at which time the parties will assess the ongoing health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.” The meeting was well attended, and the matter was thoroughly discussed prior to the vote, which carried by about a two-thirds majority. QUFA wrote to the University administration on June 1st calling for them to reconsider their decision to suspend the mask mandate. Further, we asked that in the alternative that the University take the following three steps:
- Commit to maintaining a good supply of N95 masks freely available for those who elect to protect themselves from COVID 19 in the workplace over the summer;
- Issue a statement to the Queen’s community clarifying that our Members may require that others wear masks in situations where physical distancing (2-meter separation) is not possible and which our members normally enter to discharge their assigned duties, such as classrooms and laboratories; and
- Provide a timeframe for when the issue will be reconsidered and the criteria that will be applied at that time.
This is the University’s reply:
“Thank you for your letter in response to our decision to suspend the mandatory mask update effective June 1, 2022. As indicated in the announcement, university leadership took this decision in consultation with local public health officials, and in consideration of the local state of the pandemic and the lifting of mask mandates in most public spaces across the province.
We suggest that QUFA members who feel uncomfortable on campus without a mask continue to wear one, and that they respectfully request that others either maintain two metres distance or mask as well. The University will continue to maintain a supply of Level 2 medical-grade masks for this purpose. The University commits to revisiting the decision to suspend the mandate in late August, again in consultation with local public health officials.”
We are disappointed in both the substance and the tone of this response. Nevertheless, we believe it affirms that you have the right to require anyone with whom you must interact in the performance of your work and with whom you cannot maintain a two-metre separation to wear a mask. Any inappropriate behaviour should be reported under the University’s new harassment policy, see https://www.queensu.ca/secretariat/policies/senate/harassmentdiscrimination-complaint-policy-and-procedure. If you are concerned about situations requiring you to work in close proximity to unmasked individuals, you might also consider proactively structuring your work environment to avoid being in such a situation; for example, by scheduling virtual meetings, or arranging alternate duties with your Unit Head or Dean. As always, any specific concerns about safety in the workplace should be reported to the Joint Health and Safety Committee for your area (see here: https://www.queensu.ca/risk/safety/general/joint-health-committee).
To be frank, QUFA’s leverage with the administration on this matter is limited at this time because it is summer, many of our Members are not on campus, and several of the unions whose members are on campus in greater numbers did not support this request. However, as the University indicates, it will be revisiting the suspension in late August, and we trust the administration understands that an orderly return to campus depends on our Members having a sense of security in the workplace. QUFA has scheduled a meeting to consult with the other unions on campus in early August and will continue to press the University to put the health and safety of its employees and students first.
QUFA is getting reports that the Queen’s Student Accessibility Services (QSAS) office is writing to instructors with retroactive accommodation requests. These requests are often for students who completed 20% or less of the required course work during the term. Often these retroactive accommodation requests are to convert a F-grade into an (IN)complete with the student being granted the opportunity to complete the outstanding work over the summer. This approach is at odds with Queen’s own policies regarding incomplete grades. For example, the Faculty of Arts and Science policy states: “Incomplete standing (IN) is a temporary designation reserved for a course in which a student who, because of extenuating circumstances beyond his or her control, has not completed all term work for a course or requests permission to defer the writing of a final examination. The student must have participated actively in the class, and only one or two elements of the class may be outstanding. Students with extenuating circumstances who have been unable to complete the majority of the work in a class should consider an appeal to drop a class after the deadline rather than requesting an incomplete grade in the class.” [https://www.queensu.ca/artsci/sites/default/files/permission_for_an_incomplete_grade.pdf, emphasis added]
Clearly, a retroactive accommodation as described above is not an appropriate accommodation in all but a few very rare circumstances.
To make matters worse, the students are being copied on these requests to individual instructors, which unreasonably puts tremendous pressure on the individual instructor to acquiesce. QSAS appears to be presenting these request as if they are the norm, but they most certainly are not, nor should they be. This may be confusing to instructors, but particularly to new faculty and term adjuncts. Speaking of term adjuncts, the term of their employment contract is often already ended, when they are being ‘asked’ to grant these extraordinary accommodation requests.
If you have received a request to retroactively accommodate a student/students in your class, please let QUFA know by contacting me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and letting us know the course(s) and a brief summary of the student’s history (be sure to mask out the student’s name) in each situation (what assessment tools were used, when were the deadlines, what if any accommodation was requested and or granted during the year, what work was completed, what extensions if any were granted during the year, and what remains outstanding). QUFA has contacted the University administration to work to bring about change to the way QSAS handles the accommodation process. There is often more than one way to appropriately accommodate a student. In the case where a student has done very little of the term work, the most appropriate accommodation is probably a late drop rather than attempting to bully the instructor into carrying an entire term worth of work into the summer. The University might even consider waiving tuition for the student when they re-take the course for which they are being accommodated. In any case, granting retroactive accommodations to students who have completed little, or no, coursework throughout the regular term is inappropriate in most circumstances, and you have every right to refuse to do so.
QUFA has confirmed with the Executive Director – Student Wellness Services, Cynthia Gibney, that faculty may say no to these retroactive accommodations requests simply by responding to the QSAS Advisor that sent out the request. However, QUFA strongly urges Members to not copy the student when responding; instead reply only to the QSAS Advisor. It is entirely inappropriate for the student to be copied at this stage of the process; it exposes the faculty member to possibly being named in a human rights complaint. It is the duty of the University, not of individual instructors, to provide appropriate accommodations to students as needed. Faculty members are simply one of the means by which the University fulfills this obligation. As mentioned above, QUFA is working to effect change in the way the University is handling the accommodation process.
Separate from the issues with the accommodation processes as discussed above is the impact that implementing accommodations has on our workloads. The impacts of accommodations on the workload of QUFA Members is being raised separately at the bargaining table as QUFA and the University work to negotiate a renewed Collective Agreement.
Jordan Morelli – President
Queen’s University Faculty Association