This month marks the long-awaited return to campus life for many staff and students alike and while this may be largely welcomed as a return to some version of normality, some aspects of campus life have certainly undergone changes while we have been away. For freshers and second years who are attending campus for the first time and for our new International Students, this piece aims to set out UCD’s new COVID-19 policy and place it in the context of the larger policy (and surrounding legal discussion) in place across the country.
What is the updated UCD COVID-19 policy?
The new policy brings the focus to campus life, rather than the various issues surrounding online learning. It can basically be summarised under 3 categories; masks, ventilation and vaccination. Most students will have received an email from their relevant school highlighting the importance of these 3 categories as key to the return of campus life.
UCD policy sets out that masks must be worn at all times when in lectures, tutorials, seminars and labs, essentially any classroom scenario. As well as this, masks must be worn in the library, bathrooms and when passing through any building. In short, it is suffice to say that if you are on campus and find yourself indoors you should have a mask on.
Provision has now been made for increased ventilation in all lecture halls and classrooms. This includes air conditioning systems as well as ensuring doors and windows remain open to ensure a steady flow of air throughout the room.
The most interesting new addition to campus life under this category is the installation of CO2 monitors in many buildings across campus. These monitors indicate the level of CO2 in a given space and help to validate the control measure of ventilation by indicating whether or not the levels have gone above the recommended 1,000 ppm.
UCD is not in any legal position to mandate the vaccination of its staff and students, however, email correspondence strongly recommends that anyone who is in the position to receive the vaccine does so to help decrease the risk of COVID across campus.
Is UCD policy in line with Government advice?
The Government’s policy is outlined in a document entitled ‘A Safe Return, Plan for a Safe Return to On-site Further and Higher Education and Research in 2021/22 (which can be accessed online). This plan focuses largely on the positive impact that a return to campus will bring for the well-being of students, an issue that had been largely neglected in previous Government addresses.
The ‘Safe Return’ plan largely averts to the individual institutions to implement their own plan for return with an emphasis on vaccination and mask-wearing, something UCD has clearly taken on board. All in all, it seems that the University and the Government are on the same page when it comes to COVID-19 policy, a fact which will hopefully ensure that on-campus life does not come to an abrupt stop once more.
Looking to the future…
While a majority of students are content with the new regulations in place across campus, there is a concern that some issues may arise in the not so distant future. It has been alleged that tutors have been instructed to refuse to commence class until every student has a mask on. However, tutors are not permitted to single out the mask-less individual and must instead make a general statement indicating their refusal to start class until everyone is compliant with regulations. This has the potential to create tension and animosity in the classroom, not an ideal environment for those who have come to teach and learn.
Another issue has arisen surrounding the continuation of recorded classes for students who may not be in a position to attend live lectures. Data protection regulations may prove an obstacle in uploading a recording of classes in which students are actively participating and as such can be seen or heard in the recording. This barrier to the recording of lectures could result in vulnerable students being placed at a grave disadvantage this academic year.
The last possible issue this piece would like to consider is the promotion of vaccination by the University. The question could be raised of whether or not it is the place of a third level institution to give personal medical recommendations. While this may seem like an arbitrary issue to raise at present, an educated prediction could be made that we will be seeing this question dealt with in the courts in the near future, the question of whether or not an institution or workplace is even entitled to make such a recommendation.
Only time will tell whether or not these issues will even arise and if so, how they will be dealt with by the UCD administration, but for now, welcome back to campus!
Louise Kennedy – Law Correspondent