Two UBC profs switch classes to online delivery due to growing Delta variant threat

Two UBC professors said they are planning to teach their courses online until the number of COVID-19 cases decreases and additional safety measures are adopted by BC, despite a return to in-person learning.

On August 25, Dr. Michael Byers, a professor in the department of political science, tweeted that he would not teach “100 students in a lecture room without a vaccine mandate.”

On the same day, Dr. Steve Morgan, a professor in the school of population and public health, tweeted that he would be teaching his courses online until the fourth wave passed.

In his thread, he wrote that he did not feel it was safe to return to campus yet, with the growing number of Delta variant cases and the lack of a vaccine requirement.

“Watching the situation unfold in British Columbia, particularly amongst university-age populations, for me it became increasingly clear that I couldn't, in good conscience, hold a class live in a seminar and for students that were anxious or clinically at risk,” Morgan said in an interview with The Ubyssey.

Morgan said he got an overwhelmingly positive response from his students and colleagues as well as a few of his superiors when he announced he would be teaching online.

“There's been tremendous response from students, reaching out to say that they think that this is truly the right thing to do. I've had students reach out to me and ask, is it possible that more of their instructors could possibly do the same thing?” Morgan said.

Morgan said perhaps return-to-campus plans were based on “optimistic assumptions” back when the pandemic was more under control. Now, he said, BC needs to adjust based on the current situation.

“If the assumptions are false at this point, we need to change the policy,” Morgan said. He thinks many in-person courses could be moved online in a timely manner during the height of the Delta wave so as to “mitigate the size of that wave and the consequences it has for students and families.”

Morgan said he did not seek permission to switch to an online mode of course delivery.

“I would like to put pressure on that leadership, to make sure that the assumptions behind having students back in classrooms are in fact met and that the considerations of student well-being, the well-being of their family members and the well-being of staff and faculty are really being taken into account when making decisions,” he said.

Since Morgan’s and Byers’ tweets, UBC announced rapid testing for those who have not been vaccinated. UBC Media Relations did not comment in specific on the decision made by these professors the prevalence of online classes for the fall term.

Following the statement, Morgan said the “details are too scarce to determine how effective these measures will be,” but said they were a step in the right direction. He said he would consult with his students on what would be the best way to move forward.

Byers declined to comment further on his decision and did not inform The Ubyssey if his plans had changed since the announcement of rapid testing.