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UTSC Campus Council discusses COVID-19 accommodations at November meeting

Council provides updates on course delivery, ancillary operations, Indigenous house
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The UTSC Campus Council met on November 17.MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY
The UTSC Campus Council met on November 17.MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY

The UTSC Campus Council’s meeting on November 17 focused heavily on the campus’ response to COVID-19

Members provided updates on course delivery for the winter 2021 semester, academic accommodations during COVID-19, and UTSC’s upcoming Indigenous House, which is expected to begin construction in the summer of 2021.

Course delivery for winter 2021

William Gough, UTSC Vice-Principal Academic and Dean, briefly reported on UTSC’s future teaching deliveries during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gough reported that, for the winter semester, UTSC has decided to include in-person instruction for certain classes. Gough further explained that “teaching labs and courses that use our campus kitchen will have in-person elements on campus” and that the decision would affect approximately 750 students. “Most labs will be used twice a day with the appropriate cleaning,” Gough said.

Gough added that UTSC would make decisions involving in-class delivery for the summer 2021 semester late in the winter semester. He mentioned that UTSC will consider a hybrid approach of in-person and remote teaching should a COVID-19 vaccine be developed before that time. Gough said that he is “hopeful that the fall of 2021 will be returned to mainly in-person delivery.”

Student accommodations during COVID-19

With regard to additional COVID-19 accommodations for students, Desmond Pouyat, UTSC’s Dean of Student Affairs, reported that UTSC will be continuing to include time-zone considerations as part of its exam conflict criteria for next semester. 

Pouyat explained that the policy means that if a student “[has] an exam that is scheduled outside of a normal time period, in [their] location, [they] can declare this as a conflict that needs accommodation.”

UTSC has also adapted its policies to consider COVID-19 through the use of the Self-Declaration of Illness form, which is used across all three U of T campuses. The form allows students to formally self-declare an illness to receive up to three days of academic accommodation for missed term work. 

Pouyat said that, in the fall semester so far, about 1.5 per cent of UTSC students have used the tool and that UTSC has found that students have not misused the form.

Pouyat emphasized the changes UTSC has implemented in order to support student mental health during COVID-19, such as the six weekly counselling sessions that have been offered virtually to students as of this fall. Pouyat explained that two of the six weekly sessions focus on managing anxiety, which he described as being “one of the top issues [UTSC] students are experiencing.”

Pouyat also mentioned that UTSC’s Academic Advising & Career Centre has noticed an uptick in students requesting its services, primarily for help with graduate and professional school applications and employment services. “Clearly, students are worried about getting their first jobs,” Pouyat said. 

Ancillary operations

Andrew Arifuzzaman, UTSC Campus Council’s Chief Administrative Officer, explained that U of T’s ancillary operations “have really been decimated as a result of [COVID-19].” 

Arifuzzaman partially attributed the loss of income to food services, elaborating that, of UTSC’s 11 food operations, only one — the campus’ Tim Hortons — is currently operating. Arifuzzaman reported that the Tim Hortons was generating between $9,000 and $10,000 a day in sales pre-pandemic, but is now earning between $700 and $800 daily.

Arifuzzaman noted that, though UTSC’s food services are declining in profit, the campus is scheduled to accommodate various filming projects in the upcoming year. Arifuzzaman assured the council that film crews are “incredibly diligent about health and safety because the last thing that they can afford is to be shut down.”

We’ve had [The Handmaid’s Tale] filming on the campus in the fall; we have Star Trek: Discovery filming in January and February,” Arifuzzaman said. “And there’s another film that has just started negotiations with [UTSC].” 

Arifuzzaman estimated that Highland Hall’s COVID-19 testing centre, which is in collaboration with the Scarborough Health Network, will begin operation on December 1.

He also mentioned that Swim Canada had contacted UTSC to help facilitate the Summer 2021 Olympic Trials, which will be held at the Pan Am Sports Centre.

Indigenous House

The meeting concluded with updates from Arifuzzman about UTSC’s upcoming Indigenous House.

Arifuzzaman described the building as being located on UTSC’s north campus “between the Centennial College building at the corner of Morningside and Ellesmere,” in a space beside the campus’ Instructional Centre and Environmental Science and Chemistry Building. 

He noted the importance of the building’s location, mentioning that “[UTSC] selected the site [because] it has a spectacular four season view of the Highland Creek ravine.”

According to Arifuzzaman, UTSC consulted with roughly 45 Elders and knowledge keepers in terms of design. He confirmed that the building’s construction “will absolutely include Indigenous apprentices” and that UTSC will work with community partners to try to give Indigenous youth interested in being apprentices “some sense of priority to be constructors on this project.”