Your Safety is Our Top Priority: A Message from President Flanagan

President Flanagan discusses a number of the key safety measures that will make a successful fall possible.

Students walking past Triffo Hall in summer

In only a few short weeks, students, faculty, and staff will begin to arrive on U of A campuses for the start of the fall term. I am looking forward to being on campus and meeting many of you face-to-face for the first time, and seeing the variety and richness of campus life begin to resume.

While I am excited, I am also aware that we must move forward with care. COVID-19 remains a significant threat, particularly to the members of our community who are not yet vaccinated. I want to assure you that we have been preparing for a return to campus for many months. We are taking a phased approach to mitigate risks. We are prepared to, and will, adapt our plans as needed. We will continue to monitor daily case trends, hospitalization rates and the impacts of current and emerging virus variants. Maintaining a safe and healthy learning, research and working environment on our campuses remains our top priority.

Many of you have voiced concerns and questions. A number of you have called for mandatory vaccinations for all faculty, staff and students, mandatory masks, and additional information about university ventilation systems. I appreciate the concerns that so many of you have expressed. This is a challenging time for all of us as we adjust to a rapidly changing environment. I would like to take this opportunity to respond.


We know that vaccination is the best and most effective protection against COVID-19. To ensure the health and safety of our campus communities, we must encourage and achieve a high rate of vaccination. As confirmed by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer for Health in her COVID-19 update on July 28, 2021, vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of severe outcomes and the risk of infection. Since July 1, people who were not fully immunized have made up 95% of all cases of COVID-19, 94% of all those who have needed hospital care for COVID-19, and 95% of all COVID-19 deaths.

Citing the example of many US universities and colleges, some members of the university community have called for the mandatory vaccination of all students, faculty and staff. There is robust debate on the topic. Mandatory vaccination raises a complex range of legal and ethical issues, including privacy, autonomy and social equity. At this point, some Canadian universities are mandating vaccination for students in residence; however, only one Canadian post-secondary institution is making vaccination mandatory for anyone attending campus.

In March, the university’s COVID-19 Planning Oversight Committee established a working group to examine this question and develop recommendations. You can see their March 15, 2021 report here. After a thorough assessment of the university’s complex human rights, privacy, legal, and collective agreement obligations, the group recommended against mandatory vaccination, but underscored the need for the university to educate, promote and make vaccines easily accessible.

Throughout the spring and summer, vaccines have been readily available to all members of the community at the university’s pharmacy and health centre and through other health service providers. Many U of A faculty members have devoted significant time and energy to educating the public about COVID-19 and vaccines and continue to do so. I want to thank everyone for stepping up to do this critically important work.

As fall term approaches, we are redoubling our efforts to encourage and facilitate vaccinations. New information about vaccines and vaccination availability will be shared through the weekly COVID-19 digest and the U of A’s COVID-19 website.

We also want to better understand the vaccination rates among faculty, staff and students. We invite all university community members to take a short voluntary and anonymous survey. We will share the results with the university community and outline how these results may impact our preparations for the fall.

We are working closely with the Students’ Union and Graduate Students’ Association on creative ways of engaging the student population. With campus reopening, students (along with faculty and staff) will be offered a vaccine at every available opportunity. Planning is underway to bring additional mass vaccination clinics to the U of A. Upon arrival at residence, every student will be offered the opportunity to book an immediate vaccination appointment if they wish, along with detailed information about vaccine efficacy and safety.

While we will be increasing access to vaccination with the re-opening of our campuses, we urge all students to take both doses of the vaccine now before coming to campus. While in the early stages of COVID-19, the elderly were most at risk and suffered the greatest toll, the risk to younger age groups is also serious and significant. As Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health confirmed, in the last 17 months, more than 1400 Albertans aged 20-39 have needed to be hospitalized with COVID-19, with 200 in ICU. Returning to campus fully vaccinated is the most powerful protection against infection. It is also by far the most effective way to reduce and stop community spread.


As announced earlier, consistent with the position adopted by both the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton, non-medical masks are no longer mandatory in any locations on the U of A’s campuses. However, faculty, staff, and students who choose to wear them are encouraged to do so. As Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health recommended in her July 29, 2021 update, the university may reimpose mandatory masking if there is a temporary outbreak. As noted above, vaccinations remain by far the most effective measure available to reduce the impact of COVID-19. The university will continue to do all it can to facilitate and encourage high vaccination levels within the university community.


Ventilation is one safety measure that can help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The University's ventilation systems are designed to circulate fresh air safely and are continually monitored. A new FAQ resource addresses questions from our community about ventilation in university buildings.

Continued Monitoring and Responsiveness

Throughout the pandemic, the university has been following the advice of public health authorities on public safety measures. The university has continually adapted plans as the situation has evolved. Most importantly, all members of the U of A community have answered the call to take action to protect the health and well-being of others.

Although restrictions are now being reduced, I know that our shared commitment to the wellbeing of the university community will not change. As an institution, we will continue to monitor and follow expert public health advice in all of our planning and be responsive to any changes or emergent issues. I have every confidence in members of the university community. With voluntary measures, we will achieve a very high vaccination rate that will provide our best possible protection against COVID-19. Working together, we can continue to reduce the threat posed by COVID-19 and ensure a healthy and safe campus.

Bill Flanagan
President and Vice-Chancellor

For additional information on the U of A’s return to campus or COVID-19 response, please visit For more information about the academic year ahead, please visit the Campus Life website.