Universities pull course info from public sites for safety, faculty want more say

By Nairah Ahmed

Several Ontario universities are removing course location and other information from their public websites as a safety measure, as faculty representatives look to be more involved in efforts to prevent harassment and hate crimes on campus. 

The move to pull some information from public pages comes after a triple stabbing at a University of Waterloo gender studies class in June, which police described as a hate-motivated attack. 

The school removed class locations and instructor names from its public websites after the stabbing and several other post-secondary institutions have either done the same or are considering the measure. 

In Toronto, York University and the University of Toronto said they were taking down course room locations from the public domain, while Toronto Metropolitan University said it does not publicly post any class scheduling information.

“Based on consultations this summer and with security in mind, room information has been removed from the University’s publicly available undergraduate timetable builder tool. Given the size of our campuses, buildings continue to be identified to help students plan their schedules to account for travel time between classes,” a spokesperson for the University of Toronto wrote in a statement.

The University of Guelph, meanwhile, said it is in the process of removing identifying information such as room locations and instructor names from public web pages.

“Community members will also be encouraged to access the university’s training and resources around fostering safe and inclusive spaces including anti-oppression and anti-racism training, sexual and gender-based violence training and our positive spaces project,” Deirdre Healey, a spokesperson for U of G, said in a statement.

McMaster University in Hamilton said course instructor names are not visible to the public while course room numbers and locations for all classes in the gender and social justice program have been removed from public pages. 

“Any instructor from other departments may make a similar request,” the university wrote in a statement.

Western, Queen’s, Carleton, Trent and Laurier universities all said they were reviewing current safety practices, including considering the removal of certain information from public domain.

“We are consulting with our faculties and security experts about safety and security measures in place on our campus and carefully considering additional enhancements,” Western’s statement said.

The University of Waterloo attack that injured a professor and two students prompted wider discussions about campus security, threats and harassment.

The president of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations, which represents 17,000 university faculty and academic librarians, says safety consultations must involve faculty members and marginalized groups who experience online threats and harassment first-hand. 

Nigmendra Narain says racist, anti-feminist, anti-LGBTQ and other hate-motivated online extremism is being seen on university campuses and classes that explore social and gender issues.

“These classes themselves have become a lightning rod in terms of hate and online extremism, in particular,” Narain said

Narain said faculty, staff, students and members of equity-deserving groups who are most targeted have first-hand knowledge to contribute to conversations around underlying issues of extremism and targeted hate crimes on campus.

“We need to have a better and broader conversation about campus safety overall, to protect the mission of the university which is to discuss, talk, collaborate, do research and give students a strong learning environment.

“Staff and faculty associations have an important role to play here,” said Narain, who is also a professor at Western. “They understand and get information from their faculty members as to what are the issues that they are facing.”

While removing course information from public-facing websites is a good start, Narain said more “robust solutions” are needed, including increased funding for universitiesin general, including for safety programs.

The Ministry of Colleges and Universities said $6 million is given annually to publicly assisted colleges and universities in the province as part of the Campus Safety Grant “to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment.”

The ministry also pointed to the Strengthening Postsecondary Institutions and Students Act, passed last year to better protect students from sexual misconduct by faculty and staff.

“We will continue to ensure that postsecondary institutions are doing everything in their power to make campuses free of hate, discrimination, harassment, and violence,” the ministry wrote in a statement.

Narain hopes to see safety collaboration across the university sector as the new school year begins. 

“We all want to go in positively looking forward to the great experience for students and faculty, not having to worry about security measures when we go into the classroom.”

Banner image: A community event takes place outside Hagey Hall to focus on supporting one another and making everyone feel safe in Waterloo, Ontario on Thursday, June 29, 2023.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nicole Osborne

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2023.

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