Days since Western’s last pandemic-related embarrassment? Zero.
Western University's chancellor, Linda Hasenfratz, will keep her position after travelling to Barbados over the winter holidays, violating provincial travel recommendations and university guidelines. While she resigned from her position on the province’s vaccine rollout task force, there is no indication that she will be leaving her position as Western’s figurehead anytime soon.
In her statement, Hasenfratz said she was “disappointed” in herself for not setting a better example and apologized for breaching community trust with her “mistake.” The words “disappointed” and “mistake” are for when your roommate grabs you the wrong six-pack of beer at LCBO — not when you violate pandemic safety guidelines to go on a vacation.
Hasenfratz did breach the community’s trust — Western students created a petition calling for her removal and the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association wrote that her continued employment “undermines Western’s reputation and credibility.”
Students and faculty have said loud and clear that we want our chancellor gone — but, as per usual, our requests fall on deaf ears.
As Western students, we’ve been blamed, shamed and punished by Western and the city for the spread of COVID-19. Western’s Student Code of Conduct extended to students breaking distancing rules off-campus. Op-eds were written in the local paper comparing us to mosquitos spreading the West Nile virus. Sophs were kicked out of residence after one offence because of Western’s zero-tolerance policy — but it seems everyone deserves a second chance when it’s our chancellor.
This isn’t to say students aren’t responsible for some of the local spread in London — we are. We faced backlash from the community and the school and rightfully so. But while students were reprimanded swiftly and called names, there seems to be no community repercussions for Hasenfratz’s “judgement error.”
Is this really the figurehead Western students and faculty deserve?
Western’s Board of Governors’ chair Rick Konrad wrote that he hopes Hasenfratz’s vacation will be “a learning moment in the Western community.” The only thing I’ve learned is that if I become chief executive officer of a multi-million dollar company, I too can go on vacation in the middle of a global pandemic without fear of losing my job.
I understand how someone would need a mental health break. Being a CEO, a chancellor for one of the biggest post-secondary institutions in Canada and a member of the province’s vaccine rollout task force is not easy, and I can’t imagine the stress Hasenfratz is under. But it’s still not an excuse and is frankly insulting to students for her to vacation in a foreign country without regard for the health recommendations her own colleagues put into place.
We’ve been in lockdown for almost a year. Students lost their jobs, had their degrees sent in the mail and had to say goodbye to family members over the phone. Mental health is at an all-time low and we’re isolated from our support systems — and yet, the majority of students are still following provincial guidelines and staying home.
And to our chancellor, I want to go to Barbados too — we all do.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my time at Western, it is how to develop critical thinking skills. You must have learnt these things too as a Western graduate. And while many of us students have been applying these skills over the past year, you clearly have not. Own up to your mistake and resign — that will be the true learning moment for the Western community.