More action needed to keep university classrooms safe: OCUFA

A group representing university faculty and academic librarians across Ontario says it’s time institutions of higher learning–and the province–put more focus on keeping staff and students safe on campus and in the classroom.

The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) says more up-front action is needed at schools across the province in the wake of a triple stabbing over the summer at the University of Waterloo.

“I think, overall, there is an urgent need to address hate-motivated, extremist, racist, and bigoted in-person and online targeting behaviors and violence as well, which challenge campus safety,” said Nigmendra Narain, president, OCUFA. “Our marginalized, equity-seeking, and vulnerable faculty and academic librarians such as women, LGBTQ members, Black and Indigenous faculty members, and those who teach courses around those areas have been sounding the alarm for years and we have to take this seriously.”

Speaking on The Mike Farwell Show on Thursday, Narain said there are a number of more immediate steps schools could taking, including some already taken or underway at UW.

Those include things like hiding some course information from public eyes, ensuring a robust–and working–alert system, and expanding controlled entry.

“Controlled entry areas have been around for a while,” Narain said. “It’s a question of expanding them, as needed [and] in consultation with faculty members, to make sure that their classrooms are safe, that their labs are safe, and […] libraries have to be safe as well.”

Narain went on to suggest, however, the most important piece of the puzzle is simply to open new lines of communication.

“Talk to faculty associations regularly. Talk to those faculty members and academic librarians and students who are in those marginalized groups,” he said. “Ask them what else we can be doing because they have been talking about it. The question is, who has not been listening?”

OCUFA also suggests schools offer safety training programing for faculty, staff, students, and certain visitors to understand what safety measures are in place, how to use them, and who to contact in case of an emergency.

Narain said the province is also partially responsible for properly funding safe schools.

“We have to face up to the fact that campus safety is an issue and [Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop] and the province have a place to play here because Ontario itself ranks last in Canada for per-capita university funding,” he said.

The province has said previously it gives $6 million each year to publicly assisted colleges and universities as part of the Campus Safety Grant which is focused on supporting students who report sexual violence of harassment.

Narain said that only amounts to about $120,000 per school and called it a “drop in the bucket” when it comes to ensuring a safer campus.

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