With mass vaccinations underway in Canada, the University of Toronto is preparing for a safe return to in-person courses and other activities across its three campuses this fall.
“Starting this September, we are optimistic that most courses, student services and co-curricular activities will be able to proceed in person, with the possible exception of large-scale gatherings,” U of T President Meric Gertler said in a letter to the U of T community today.
“We will continue to follow public health guidance closely in order to protect the health and safety of all members of the University community.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been a long and challenging journey for all of us, with many unexpected developments along the way. But with the vaccine rollout now picking up speed, we have reason to expect better days ahead.”
Academic and administrative leaders are already making preparations for a safe, gradual return to campus in the fall term. The planning will accommodate the particular needs of individual campuses, divisions and programs.
“We are all looking forward to being back together on campus this fall,” said Cheryl Regehr, U of T’s vice-president and provost.
“The vibrant, in-person environment of our three campuses is full of formal and informal experiences that allow students and faculty to work together to learn, support each other and co-create knowledge.”
It’s expected that U of T researchers will also continue to increase their in-person activities, President Gertler said, and that administrative and support staff will resume on-campus work in the fall term – again, in close compliance with public health guidance. He added that U of T will strive to offer more flexible work arrangements for employees and ensure students are once again able to experience in-person learning and on-campus activities.
The university is planning ahead for September with a “spirit of optimism and continued vigilance,” President Gertler said.
He also noted that U of T plans to leverage the many technological and teaching innovations it developed over the past year as the pandemic forced many activities online. That includes “high-quality online teaching and delivery of services to students and faculty members, to maintain flexibility where needed or enhance the experience of our community,” he said.
Similarly, a recent memo from the provost’s office, the office of human resources and equity and the office of university operations, encouraged the university community to plan for a fall term that takes place in-person – but with the knowledge that existing practices could quickly be re-instated if public health directives require.
“We are working to support the safe return of staff, faculty and librarians to U of T's three campuses in September in order to collaborate with colleagues and interact with students, while preserving some of the best innovations of the past year in terms of technology and flexible work arrangements,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T's vice-president, human resources and equity.
The memo also states that on-campus research is continuing in accordance with public health guidelines and U of T Libraries is planning for increased in-person services, including in-person appointments to use the Fisher Rare Book Library, Map & Data Library and other essential research archives.
To prepare for a safe and gradual return to campus, several new protocols have been put in place. They include new signage, physical barriers, increased cleaning and upgraded ventilation.
Recognizing the stress the pandemic has placed on the U of T community, the memo notes there are plans to increase student advising, mental health services and co-curricular programs when public health regulations allow.
President Gertler commended the U of T community for rising to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I understand how difficult the past year has been for all members of our community,” he said in his letter.
“Let me take this opportunity to thank you all once again for the resilience, dedication, creativity and consideration you have shown throughout the past year.”