MUN moving to remote courses until winter, with exemptions to medicine, pharmacy, nursing

Memorial University's senate concluded that it will move all courses, on all campuses, to remote instruction with the exemption of students in medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

Senate meeting approved proposal to stick with remote instruction through fall semester

Memorial University students in St. John's walk between classes in March, a week before the COVID-19 pandemic effectively shut down the campus. (Marie-Isabelle Rochon/Radio-Canada )

Memorial University's senate met on Tuesday to discuss delaying on-campus instruction until early next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The senate concluded that there won't be any in-person, on-campus courses before Jan 2021, and it will move all courses on all MUN campuses to remote instruction with the exemption of students in medicine, nursing and pharmacy.

Other faculties will have to apply to the university's Vice-Presidents Council to permit students on campus in the Fall.

"It's certainly a first for Memorial University, but I think it's also very timely," said Mark Abrahams, provost and vice-president (academic) pro tempore for MUN. 

Abrahams told CBC News after Tuesday's meeting that the additional time before the fall semester will allow for better preparation in moving class to remote services while at the end of the winter semester the university and faculty only had a few days to develop a remote plan. The spring semester allowed for a few weeks of preparation. 

"It's going to give us the time to now work out precisely the details or how we're going to implement our remote activities, as well as determine what activities we're going to be able to support on campus," he said.

The university suspended all in-person classes March 18, and resumed teaching online five days later.

Any limited reopening of on-campus activity in the fall would be done "in a gradual, limited and safe manner" that adheres to public health recommendations, said a briefing note, issued before Tuesday's meeting.

"Academic units may submit a proposal to the appropriate vice-president for review to permit students onto campus in the fall semester."

Students and faculty

MUN faculty association president Ken Snelgrove said demand for courses appears to have increased for the spring semester by about 10 per cent, but he added not all students are equally able to access online resources at home.

"They don't all have big, fancy laptops that can do everything that we want them to do, in engineering, for instance, where I teach, or they may not have great internet accessibility depending on the parts of the province, or the country or the world that these students are going to be learning in," he said.

"We need to make sure that these students aren't disadvantaged and that we can step up and support these students."   

Ken Snelgrove is the president of Memorial University's faculty association. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Abrahams said that was also a concern for some members of the university senate. He said it's something that has to be worked on, and the university is working closely with its teaching technology staff to come up with mechanisms to make the remote programs as accessible as possible. 

"If students are lacking computers then certainly we're going to need to figure that out and see how we can provide support to students," he said. "Our greater challenge may in fact be internet access for all students."

Husam Basemah of MUN's student union told CBC News the concerns MUNSU is hearing from students are mainly focused on accessibility to online learning and also their mental health.

"Expanding support to the student wellness and counselling centre is very important … and we have heard that it has started operating remotely lately. That's very good news," Basemah said.

"Medical professionals are recommending that we keep operating remotely, and we support that recommendation. Our priority at MUNSU is to keep students, faculty and staff members safe."

The school's convocation was scheduled to be held in the fall. It is unclear if it will be delayed.

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