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UTM town hall discusses plans for summer, fall 2021 course delivery, vaccinations

Some in-person delivery anticipated for beginning of next academic year
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UTM President Alexandra Gillespie. COURTESY OF DREW LESIUCZOK/UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO
UTM President Alexandra Gillespie. COURTESY OF DREW LESIUCZOK/UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO

On February 2, UTM held a Virtual Town Hall with Vice-President and Principal Alexandra Gillespie. The event began with a conversation with Professor Sal Spadafora, Special Advisor to the President and Provost on COVID-19. The next part of the meeting included discussion about post-pandemic priorities and a question-and-answer session with participants. 

UTM officials revealed that the summer semester will offer 83 per cent of courses online only, while the fall semester is still in the works. Spadafora expects that U of T will not be able to mandate vaccinations for all students, but said that there will likely be options for unvaccinated students to physically distance or study remotely. 

 

Upcoming summer and fall 2021 plans

The director of academic planning and policy and research, Anita Srinivasan, gave a breakdown of summer course delivery. “For summer courses at UTM, we’re offering 315 courses… We are offering about 83 per cent of those courses as remote only, and at the other end of the spectrum, one per cent will be in-person only.” Srinivasan said that 16 per cent of courses would offer some form of dual delivery.

Srinivasan said that the campus administration is hoping that by early April, it can start letting students know what is planned for fall 2021: “we’re working all of that out now.” 

When asked if the upcoming exam schedule could be revealed earlier for students, Loretta Neebar, Registrar and Director of Enrolment Management, answered that the software that makes the schedule relies on course enrolment to create a conflict-free plan, so the schedule will not be released earlier for students. 

“We have to wait for certain points in time, for certain drop dates to happen, in order to create the most student-centred, friendly exam schedule that we can,” Neebar explained.  

Concerning the upcoming reading week, Gillespie advised members of the UTM community who live in residence to not travel, citing new restrictions on travel and the lockdown, as well as new variants of the virus and the attempt to roll out vaccinations in Canada. “We all need to play our part,” she said. “The finish line… is not exactly approaching, but it’s in sight.”

 

Current questions and concerns surrounding COVID-19

Looking past summer, Gillespie noted that UTM will still deliver virtual courses in the fall for students who cannot safely attend in-person classes during that time.

When asked whether students would be required to be vaccinated once in-person classes resume in the future, Spadafora answered that as of now, they would not, and that he doesn’t believe the university would have that jurisdiction. 

“If you don’t want to get vaccinated, you may be asked to take precautions [like] distancing and mask wearing,” he said. “I think we’ve always got to [be] understanding and do what we can to protect ourselves and each other, and acknowledge that there can be those [who] can’t [get vaccinated]. There may be those [who] won’t and just need more time.”

When asked whether current vaccines will be effective against new variants, Spadafora answered by saying that the current vaccines are “quite effective” and can potentially cover new strains. “All that we can do to limit reproduction of the virus [and] spread of the disease will help us stay ahead of the variants,” he said. 

Spadafora expressed that while there is a sense of hope around Ontario and Canada starting to get case counts under control recently, the vaccine rollout is a concern since Canada needs to “play a bit of catch up.” 

However, looking ahead, Spadafora is optimistic about late spring, saying he anticipates that the vaccine will begin to flow in by then. “The knowledge that we’ve gained about the pathogen… has certainly had a shift from a paradigm of fear to one of emerging knowledge and respect,” said Spadafora.