Acadia students, faculty call for flexible learning options as in-person classes resume

Click to play video: 'Acadia University students, faculty question in-person learning during COVID-19 Omicron wave'
Acadia University students, faculty question in-person learning during COVID-19 Omicron wave
WATCH: Acadia University is returning to in-person classes this week, but not everyone is happy about that. The students' union and faculty association are calling for more flexibility and choice with how courses are taught. Callum Smith has that story – Jan 24, 2022

After starting the winter term online due to safety reasons, Acadia University returned to in-person classes Monday. But some students and faculty are raising safety concerns given the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think the university is thinking about these safety issues, I just don’t know if they’re being addressed,” says Crewe Bailey, a second-year student. “Having the option for hybrid learning — and having that supported more so by the university because it’s not really right now — would be great.”

And the union representing says it has concerns, too.

“We did run a survey last week, we had over 2,000 responses from students in 72 hours,” says Georgia Saleski, the vice-president of student of life of the Acadia Students’ Union.

“And the overwhelming majority indicated that there was a need for flexibility and choice in the return to courses for the rest of the winter semester.”

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But like many debates, there are two sides. Tuition costs at Acadia range from just over $8,000 for Nova Scotians to almost $19,000 for international students pursuing an undergrad, and that’s enough for second-year student Anmol Nijhawan to want in-person learning to continue.

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“We are paying more than $17-or-18,000 per year, and still, if we have to do online courses, my teachers don’t even know my name,” he says. “That’s not justified for me.”

The university says hybrid learning is allowed for professors who can accommodate, but in-person learning is preferred.

“Public Health encourages that delivery method,” says Sherri Turner, the university’s director of communications. “Understandably, it will take time for everyone to adjust to the current provincial strategies around in-person learning, with omicron being in our communities.

“Fortunately, Acadia has strict health and safety measures in place, and our professors can add a hybrid option to their classes to accommodate students in need.”

The faculty association says it has tried to sign another memorandum of understanding with Acadia, allowing faculty to teach remotely as needed.

Faculty’s contract — which has expired with a possible strike mandate looming — says professors have to be in class.

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But Jon Saklofske, an association spokesperson and an English and theatre professor, says that’s not the case this time.

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“We are bound by the directive of our employer, at the same time concerned about the safety of AUFA’s members and our faculty,” he says.

Saklofske says faculty can ask for the university to accommodate, but those requests would be considered on an individual basis.

Logan Mahoney, a fourth-year student, doesn’t think in-person learning should be top of mind at the moment.

“It’s unfortunate for students, especially first and second years who have only had to deal with online classes,” he says. “I think a large part of university is building connections and being in person, but I feel like right now with Omicron still going up, it’s a bit of a risk right now.”

The students’ union says it will have a representative at an upcoming Acadia University Senate meeting to voice concerns.

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