Senate vote against mask mandate in special meeting

Dr. Réka Gustafson was invited to speak at the meeting

A blue disposable mask on a grey background
Masks are still recommended, but not required, in SFU’s indoor spaces. PHOTO: Kai Pilger / Unsplash

By: Nancy La, News Editor 

On March 17, 2022, Senate held a special meeting to discuss implementing a mask mandate on campus. Senator Gabe Liosis started a petition to call for the meeting. Senate rules dictate that a meeting can be called at the request of at least 10 Senators. 

Dr. Réka Gustafson, deputy provincial health officer, joined the meeting to provide context on the province’s current mask guidelines to the Senate. Currently, the provincial health office recommends wearing masks on transit, but they are no longer mandatory in indoor spaces.

The Senate meeting was chaired by president Joy Johnson, who announced she would not be wearing a mask for the duration of the meeting. 

Senator Gabe Liosis moved the motion to “recommend to the president and the Board of Governors that face coverings be required in lecture halls, classrooms, and labs at Simon Fraser University for the remainder of the Spring 2022 semester.”

The SFSS conducted a survey asking students about their views on wearing a mask on campus. The survey received 3,298 responses, with 55% of students wanting a mask mandate at SFU until the end of Spring semester. A higher percentage of  students who identified as disabled and/or immunocompromised “thought face coverings should be required” in indoor spaces until the end of the Spring semester. 

An amendment was made to the motion during debate to include all indoor spaces, such as the library, at SFU. The debate lasted over an hour and the amended motion was defeated. 

The Peak reached out to Liosis for comments. “The main arguments against the motion, which I believe inevitably swayed Senate to defeat the motion, was that of enforcement,” he said. 

“Vice-president academic and provost Catherine Dauvergne, alongside other members of the administration, argued that because there was no public health order to back a mask mandate on campus, that they would have no effective way of enforcing it. They feel that they have no authority to charge Campus Security to enforce a mandate, and it would present faculty and staff with many challenges in terms of enforcement.”

Liosis is “deeply disappointed” with the motion’s defeat. “There are ways that SFU could have enforced such a mandate, but the willingness to explore those options was simply not there. With all problems comes a solution, and the administration was plainly ignoring those solutions.”

In a statement to The Peak, SFU said the Senate debate was “productive.” The school “continues to encourage our students, faculty and staff to wear masks while on campus and has been pleased to see high levels of mask wearing at the university since the province lifted the mask requirement earlier this month.”

Liosis noted the importance of students’ voices in demanding a mask mandate. “At this point, students must continue to vocalize their support for a mask mandate, and pressure SFU to change its mind. At the very least, in the wake of Senate defeating this motion, the university needs to improve its messaging on mask wearing, and strongly recommend and encourage mask usage, instead of leaving it up to chance what students decide to do.” 

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