TWO out of three Manitoba Christian colleges and universities are planning a return to in-person classes in September.
Both Canadian Mennonite University and Providence University College plan to welcome students back to campus in fall. Booth University College plans to start the academic year in virtual mode.
"Every indication is this is a reasonable and good thing to do," CMU president Cheryl Pauls said, adding the university expects to offer 90 per cent of its classes in person, with some hybrid options for those who cannot attend for virus-related reasons.
The school is not proceeding "cavalierly," Pauls said, noting they are following provincial health guidelines for reopening.
If things should change, the school is prepared to pivot back to online classes, she said.
What gives Pauls confidence about returning to in-person classes is that CMU "has a proven track record in honouring the safety, health, and well-being of all."
Pauls noted there were no outbreaks of the virus on campus last school year, and 95 per cent of staff and faculty at the school are vaccinated.
CMU will not require students to be vaccinated when they return, but they will be encouraged to do so. Residences will be limited to one student per room.
A big challenge with the return to classes is psychological.
"Collectively, our lives have experienced a major shock through changes to how we live," Pauls said. "It’s tough to shift our thinking from, ‘We need to stay apart’ to, ‘It’s safe to be together.’"
At Providence, "We anticipate being in-person as much as possible," Samantha Groenendijk, vice-president external, said. "We are excited to welcome our students back to campus."
Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to get vaccinated. "We are not mandating it," she said, adding students in residence will have rooms to themselves.
The school is also ready to pivot to online learning if required.
"We have a year’s worth of experience with it now, so we have the ability to do that," Groenendijk said, adding that being a smaller school means it is easier to change course.
"Our goal is to keep our community as safe as possible," she said.
Michael Boyce, vice-president and academic dean at Booth, said starting the year with online classes feels like the "best course of action."
At the same time, the school is giving instructors the freedom to choose if they want to meet in person, as long as students are comfortable with it.
"We are hearing apprehension among students about face-to-face classes," he said, explaining the decision.
If the situation makes it possible, and students are open to it, Booth is prepared to move back to in-person education.
"Our small size allows us to adjust and pivot more easily than a large school," Boyce said.
Booth will also not be requiring students, staff members and faculty to be vaccinated, although it will be encouraged. Students in residence will be required to have both their shots.
"Our experience with virtual learning gives us a good safety net before we can move to face-to-face learning," Boyce said.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.