U of T cancels international activity amidst COVID-19 concerns

Instructors asked to prepared plans for alternative course delivery, campus remains open
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

In response to concerns surrounding COVID-19, the University of Toronto will be halting all international events for students until June 1, 2020 and asks that instructors prepare contingency plans alternative course delivery. The university also recommends that all non-academic discretionary events be cancelled or postponed, though the campus will remain open for now.

The announcement was made in a memo sent by Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Research, Innovation and Strategic Initiatives Vivek Goel earlier today.

These measures come in response to growing concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19. The Public Health Agency of Canada has assessed the public health risk of coronavirus in Canada to be low. As of press time, there are 140 cases in Canada, of which, 59 are in Ontario.

Students who are abroad have been asked to contact safety.abroad@utoronto.ca, and the memo added that the university is coordinating with those who are currently outside the country to provide support if they wish to remain abroad or return early.

U of T administration also requested that any staff members who are planning to travel to a country with a COVID-19 related travel advisory self-isolate themselves for 14 days upon re-entry to Canada. The memo to staff and faculty drew attention to the fact that travel bans or restrictions may be imposed on short notice in the coming weeks, and as such, non-essential travel should be considered carefully.

In the memo, Regehr and Goel wrote to staff that “the University is actively planning for the possibility that the current pandemic may affect [their] work and activities here at U of T.” They are prioritizing the health and safety of the U of T community, but are also focused on continuing academic and business activities. 

Contingency plans for courses

Instructors have been directed to set up contingency plans for continuing course activities should the COVID-19 situation change. A public memo was released yesterday which detailed a number of strategies at the disposal of instructors to ensure that courses can be completed if students and staff are no longer able to gather together in person for lectures or exams.

Some available options include moving lectures online or assigning all students 100 per cent for remaining assignments. More disruptive strategies would require approval under the University Assessment and Grading Practices Policy, such as cancelling an exam, or changing the weighting of an assignment. If other measures are necessary, such as designating a course as CR/NCR for all students, or assigning a letter grade as opposed to a numeric one, instructors would need to consult with the dean’s office.

In an email sent to students on the afternoon of March 12, the university confirmed that for the time being, “classes and other academic activities continue as normal on our three campuses.”

The university has outlined one of its priorities as ensuring that graduating students will be able to graduate on time, and ensuring the continuation of courses and programs. 

While the university is hoping to complete the term with minimal disturbance, it is also “continuing to carefully assess the global situation, consider the advice of public health authorities, and the interests of our community.”

Professor David Roberts, Chair of the Teaching Stream Committee for the University of Toronto Faculty Association, wrote to The Varsity that the university is making difficult decisions, and that “a significant amount of information [has been] circulated to faculty” over the past few days. 

He also wrote that there needs to be adequate support for faculty if they attempt to make a change to online learning: “Making such changes in teaching practices in such a quick timeframe is a difficult task to say the least.”

“I would like to see more resources (both in terms of advice and potentially also equipment) [be] made available to faculty as they work to make these plans,” wrote Roberts. 

Similar to students, U of T employees will no longer need to provide a doctor’s note for cold or flu-related absences. A web-based Employee Absence Self-Declaration form has been set up to record absences. 

There is a petition circulating that is calling on the university to close all three campuses in light of the spread of COVID-19. As of time of publication, it has 5,500 signatures.

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