While most of Memorial University has returned to an online learning environment, hundreds of Faculty of Science students have expressed concerns regarding in-person labs while the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, continues to surge in NL.
Student Jessica Martin spoke on behalf of the Faculty of Science previously, stating some students “feel as if the administration does not hear their concerns.”
The Acting Dean of Science, Dr. Travis Fridgen, has since issued a response regarding the situation and such concerns:
“In deciding to go ahead with in-person labs beginning January 17th, I can assure students that we considered very carefully the risks as well as the safety measures that are in place for the students attending labs. We discussed them with our Environmental Health and Safety Officers and the Chief Risk Officer and have concluded that the risks are very low for people coming to campus to take part in the in-person lab activities. These low risks were weighed against the risk to the education of our students by missing more hands-on lab work. Last year our students missed a full year of hands-on labs. Our faculty and instructors expressed serious concerns about the lab skills of our students in labs last semester and of those conducting research. There is absolutely no substitution for hands-on lab exercises for most of the courses that we teach. Most of the learning outcomes cannot be met in an online environment, and students would graduate without the skills they need to go on to graduate school, or they will be disadvantaged in employment requiring technical skills. There is also a different and deeper learning that goes on in these labs, and that cannot be replaced with online labs. While we did the best we could last year, we are in a different situation, and we have learned how to minimize the risks for our students, faculty, and staff. In our labs, we are able to physically distance, the ventilation is at or above requirements, and everyone will be provided with a 3-ply surgical mask upon entrance to their lab. The entire university community has a much higher vaccination rate than the rest of Newfoundland, and that is one of our best defences against COVID. Each of these is a defence against the spread of COVID, and we are doing all of them at the same time, further reducing the risks. Since we have very few in-class lectures going on in person, campus density is also very low. Finally, if someone is sick, they are expected to stay home, they will not be penalized for missing a lab, but they may need to make it up at a later date. Those details will need to be determined at the departmental level”.
Dr. Fridgen has also stated, “while I have heard concerns from some students taking courses in the Faculty of Science about coming back to St. John’s to attend in-person labs, many other students have expressed relief that they will be able to do their labs in person. I share these concerns; three of my own children take courses in the Faculty of Science, so I do not take concerns or risks lightly”.