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UTM principal responds to questions about university life during COVID-19 at town hall

Course delivery, financial, academic accessibility were discussed
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Alexandra Gillespie, Vice-President and Principal at UTMCOURTESY OF DREW LESIUCZOK/UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
Alexandra Gillespie, Vice-President and Principal at UTMCOURTESY OF DREW LESIUCZOK/UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

UTM held its first Virtual Town Hall of the 2020–2021 academic year over Zoom on October 15. During the meeting, UTM’s new Vice-President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie, who started the role in July, responded to COVID-19-related questions submitted by students and members of the UTM community in the presence of some of campus administration.

Opening the meeting, Gillespie said that the point of the conversation was to discuss “how we get from now, October, to April, and how we do it and stay well and thrive and support one another.”

Questions were presented by Andrea Carter, UTM Assistant Dean Student Wellness, Support & Success, and covered topics related to UTM campus life and operations, and student academics and well-being.

Course delivery

The first topic was course delivery for the upcoming semester. As Gillespie noted, 97 per cent of students are currently taking their courses online. This will continue into the winter semester, and students can expect to see the exact delivery modes for their courses in early November.

For students who rely on certain courses for their prerequisites, the “vast majority” of prerequisite courses will be offered partly or fully online.

Fees and finances

With regard to incidental fees, Gillespie noted that U of T has changed the structure of these fees for the 2020–2021 academic year. “If we’re not providing all of our ancillary or incidental services, we will not be charging all of our incidental fees,” she commented.

Gillespie highlighted efforts to address financial inaccessibility, such as the $6.5 million in financial relief that U of T has provided at the start of the pandemic, as well as additional “financial aid that we provide to students in need on a regular basis.” She encouraged students who may be struggling to reach out to the registrar’s financial aid office at UTM.

Gillespie also acknowledged the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Students’ Union’s (UTMSU) EducationForAll Campaign that calls for financial accessibility for students at UTM. She confirmed that the administration will be responding to the campaign and that it will continue to “think about different ways that [it] can make education more accessible to low-income students.” 

Community wellness

Mark Overton, Dean of Student Affairs and Assistant Principal Student Services, addressed questions concerning community wellness and student mental health. He said, “This has really been a chance for us to think about and make sure that we do offer wellness components that everyone can access.”

Overton highlighted student services options such as the Health and Counselling Centre, which is offering programs and services to help students stay active and access mental health support remotely. “It’s just a matter of students choosing to engage,” he said.

Accessible learning

Gillespie went on to address questions surrounding accessible learning and accommodations for students who are disabled. She said, “UTM accessibility remains in charge of supporting students for accommodations connected to the pandemic, and they’re doing that on top of their normal accommodations.”

She also mentioned efforts by UTM administration to aid instructors through their shift to online teaching and how it asked instructors to “think about what it means to teach inclusively in an online environment.”

Gillespie once again commended the UTMSU for raising the issue of financial inaccessibility and said that UTM is looking directly into these concerns. She further noted that UTM is working on ways to support students studying from different time zones, such as by having people working at the registrar’s office 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

Residence life, transportation, and travel

Gillespie highlighted the measures the UTM administration has taken to follow physical distancing and safety protocols on residence, such as reducing the number of students in residence and implementing new sanitation practices. She added how students quarantining on residence receive transportation from the airport, a private residence and bathroom, and three meals a day delivered to their door, among other things.

She also mentioned how UTM has made the residence deposit fee refundable to address concerns, such as students who were not able to come to residence due to travel restrictions. UTM has also created a “transit reimbursement program for those who used to rely on the shuttle for transit between [UTSG] and UTM,” according to Gillespie.