Western president Alan Shepard admitted the university “screwed up” the messaging on their new lanyard identification initiative.
In a Senate meeting Nov. 12, Western University’s president explained the institution's decision to implement the voluntary Campus Identification System, which received strong backlash from the campus community, was not communicated properly.
The lanyards were ordered over the summer in preparation for an anticipated directive from the Ontario government to verify that all individuals on campus were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus — similar to the system now in place at restaurants, said Shepard.
If the government had put this directive in place for universities, the lanyards would have been mandatory so professors could visually confirm everyone in their in-person lectures was a fully-vaccinated Western student. The lanyards would have also given students easy access to their ONECards, which they would have needed to access their classrooms.
“We were trying to imagine, what if we had to record every time every time a person goes into a classroom?” said Shepard. “What if we had to know exactly who was in that classroom, how would we do that?”
The university decided to distribute the lanyards when they arrived anyways despite there not being any government mandate to do so.
“It wasn't intended to be a new tracking system. It's not meant to be a security system, unless we had been under provincial legislation requiring that,” said Shepard.
When asked by faculty members at the Senate meeting why the university did not initially communicate these intentions, Shepard conceded that a mistake had been made.
“We screwed this up — the rollout … the lanyards came in, some FAQs were drafted, they weren’t particularly strong,” said Shepard. “I apologize to the community.”
The FAQs referring to the lanyard identification system have since been removed from Western’s website. The FAQs initially told community members the lanyards “are an easy visual way to see who is on our campus” and were “part of [the university’s] ongoing safety program.”
Western’s new Campus Identification System’s unclear messaging has left many students and faculty unsure of how it will enhance campus safety.
The visitor registration pilot program is still set to launch in Jan. 2022 but neither Shepard or university vice-president operations and finance Lynn Logan were able to confirm what this system would look like.
The website initially said the visitor registration program would require visitors to “register through an online portal” three days in advance of visiting campus. Professors at the Senate meeting critiqued this set up saying it had the potential to restrict access to university resources and information.
“The campus lanyard initiative, recently announced by the Acting Provost is antithetical to academic ideals of openness academic freedom, shared knowledge production, and public connection, works against the core values of EDI, militates against community building and violates privacy rights by exposing personally identifiable information,” read Faculty of Information and Media Studies associate professor James Compton from the faculty’s council motion.
Shepard concluded the discussion on lanyards by saying that it is unclear if the university will ever make the identification system mandatory for Western community members.
“After 21 months of [the pandemic], I'm not making any predictions about what the government might do next. They may come back in January, the case counts could rise astronomically over the winter and they could then say you need to know who is in every classroom,” said Shepard. “I don't know what they'll do. I'm far from predicting what the government will do. [But for] now, nobody needs to wear a lanyard.”