As post-secondary institutions around the country prepare to return to in-person learning this fall, an open letter from a University of Calgary professor is generating a lot of discussion about what public universities and colleges can and should do when it comes to responding to the risks of COVID-19.
Prof. Aidan Hollis of the U of C's economics department took to Twitter earlier this week to air his concerns that the school would not be requiring students, staff or faculty to be vaccinated, or disclose their vaccination status.
The post was in the form of an open letter to university president Ed McCauley.
Many of the professor's fellow faculty members, along with staff from other universities in Alberta and across the country, responded to him with messages of support.
In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, Hollis said it's clear Alberta is at risk of entering a fourth wave.
"And that the fact that many students are going to be put into classrooms with many other students, as well as in other very busy locations, and the university has the risk of making the spread of the delta variant much easier among the university population," he said.
"I think we're all at risk of this, and even vaccinated people are at risk because the vaccines are imperfect and don't provide 100 per cent protection."
Hollis said not requiring proof of vaccination, or at least vaccination status, flies in face of the university's claim that "safety remains our top priority."
But he said university officials told him they're doing all they can within their power.
"The president has kindly replied to me, and along with the comments about the university's support of vaccination, he's also said that it's not currently possible to insist on vaccination for a public university in the province," he said.
"I guess that goes back to that decision by our provincial leadership not to allow vaccination to be a condition of entry to a public university."
In a statement provided to CBC News by the U of C, McCauley reiterated this.
"As we shared in our recent message to our campus community, the University of Calgary supports vaccination and is focused on encouraging vaccination and removing barriers to individuals to access vaccines," he said.
In an emailed statement from the office of the minister of advanced education, press secretary Taylor Hides said the province has remained consistent in its position throughout the pandemic that vaccines are the fastest way to return to normal.
"Which allowed most of the public health restrictions to be lifted earlier this month," she said. "The government continues to encourage all eligible Albertans to get both their first and second dose of the vaccine."
"That being said, we respect the right of individuals to choose to get the vaccine and will not be requiring post-secondary institutions in Alberta to mandate vaccinations on campus. There is no mechanism that would allow institutions to require students to be vaccinated for in-person attendance on campus."
Hollis said he wants the province to allow universities to require proof of vaccination.
"Ultimately, what this comes down to is protecting the rights of a few people — who, for whatever reason, maybe because of something they read on Facebook or who knows what, and they don't want to get vaccinated or can't be bothered — against the rights of other people who would rather not be exposed to dangerous pathogens," he said.
"You know, we have other laws like no smoking on campus because the choices of a few people can harm others. It makes sense to me that it's not unreasonable to ask people to essentially give up some of their rights when they're in a community situation. We do it all the time."