As Canada ramps up its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the University of Toronto is busy preparing its three campuses for a safe return to in-person academic instruction this fall.
“There are a lot of really positive signs,” says Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost, students. “The vaccine roll-out in Canada is moving forward and doing well.”
Welsh emphasized the university’s ongoing focus on safety and adherence to public health guidelines, echoing comments U of T President Meric Gertler made in March about being guided by a “spirit of optimism and continued vigilance.”
She recently spoke with U of T News about the university’s preparations to welcome students, faculty and staff back on campus.
What will the fall semester look like at U of T?
Though it may be hard to look ahead to fall given that Ontario is still in a lockdown, there are a lot of encouraging indicators. The vaccine roll-out in Canada is moving forward and doing well. We are expecting that we will be back on campus in the fall based on what we are doing – and what Toronto, Peel Region and Ontario are doing – to move toward re-opening.
We are also looking at what are the kinds of activities that we can have on campus in the fall. We are planning for as much on-campus activities as we can based on public health guidelines, which we will be assessing on an ongoing basis and making adjustments as necessary.
We are working on our plans now, so we are able to ramp up as much as possible – and as quickly as possible – as we all return to campus.
How is U of T getting ready for fall classes?
In terms of academic preparations, our academic divisions are actively engaged in planning for the fall and looking at what will be happening on campus. At U of T, the academic planning happens at the level of our academic divisions – for example the Faculty of Arts & Science, Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, Faculty of Music and the Scarborough and Mississauga campuses – so it is those divisions that are planning for a safe return to in-person learning in accordance with public health guidance.
Students will want to keep an eye on announcements from their academic divisions.
What services will remain available online?
While we are aiming to return to campus, we don’t want to lose the innovations that we have developed over the course of the pandemic. We have learned a lot this past year in terms of how our online services can reach students – in some cases students we hadn’t reached before.
There are certain things we did online this past year, such as our mental health counselling appointments, that students really appreciated having online. Students have also embraced many of our virtual workshops and staff have found innovative ways to engage students online.
So, we are planning for the in-person activities that we all want to have, while also holding onto areas where online activities and online appointments have been really helpful and made things easier for students. There are certainly services that we will continue to offer online to give students that flexibility.
What kinds of measures will U of T have in place to ensure students’ health and safety on campus?
We have been – and will continue to do – our part in terms of closely following the public health guidelines of the day. At present, students, staff, faculty and librarians coming to campus are required to complete a health assessment, which can be done online; we continue to require non-medical face masks to be worn indoors and there are many other areas within our physical infrastructure that we have been looking at, including ventilation and setting occupancy limits for certain spaces. These and other safety measures will, of course, be updated and adjusted as necessary in accordance with public health guidance and the latest scientific evidence.
What preparations is U of T making for fall orientation?
We are working on orientation planning. We plan to have in-person activities where we can, but we also want to make sure the activities we are providing are inclusive and accessible to all students.