McGill faculty: if you don’t provide Covid accommodations to your disabled, high-risk, or ill students, nobody will

Here are some things concerned faculty ought to know about McGill’s return to campus happening next week (or in three weeks, depending).

Faculty need to step up and be the ones to provide accommodation for students who need it. The university is NOT currently accommodating students who are high risk or who live with people who are high risk. (This may change but currently it does not seem to be the case.)

Chairs and faculty are being told that students will be accommodated and to refer them to OSD. THIS IS NOT CORRECT. As this Twitter post from Emily Black explains, OSD is not presently authorized to provide, facilitate, or mandate remote accommodations for students who are high risk or someone who lives with high risk. This is not a criticism of OSD, but rather the executive decision not to allow remote learning as an accommodation. Apparently, students can apply to the Dean of Students, but as of now, there is no announcement as to what accommodations may be available, what support there will be for instructors to make those accommodations, and when people will hear back.

A Twitter post showing correspondence with the OSD. It says in part that the OSD “does not hold the authority to provide remote education as an academic accommodation.”

This means that faculty DO have the discretion to accommodate students, and do not need permission from OSD or deans to decide how to accommodate students’ access needs.

But wait!

It is easier than you think to accommodate students who want to be remote. Last fall I posted a simple guide to hybrid classes (also called hy-flex). It’s not perfect and it’s a skill people have to learn, but you do not need tremendous technical facility to do it. If you are teaching a large lecture course, even just recording it and making it available online, is a good option. If your classroom is not set up for recording, use your phone and upload the recording and your slide deck to MyCourses, or ask one of your students for help. Then, if there is a demand, you could take an hour of class time every couple weeks and do a Zoom meeting for the online students to check in with them.

This can also go in reverse. I am immunocompromised and am teaching online this term, at least until such time as my oncologist says it’s safe to go back to campus. However, I will be arranging for the students who want to be present together in class (or who have to be) to be able to meet in the classroom together and to have the shared experience they want. This is exactly as complicated as doing it the other way around. IE, not that hard.

Students, like faculty, are divided about the best course of action. Though I can’t go back right now, I really would like to and am tired of being on Zoom, so I get it. In an ideal world, we’d have a situation where the people who want or need to be on campus can be, and the people who need to stay off campus could also do that. We’re not going to get to that ideal world in two weeks, but we can do a hell of a lot better than we’re doing right now.