On January 28, UTSC held a town hall to address students’ questions and concerns regarding the remaining winter semester.
Wisdom Tettey, vice-president of U of T and principal of UTSC, began the event by expressing the university’s commitment to students. “We certainly will continue to do the best we can to be there for you, to listen to you, [and] to make sure that we’re responsive to your needs,” he said.
William Gough, vice-principal academic & dean, prefaced the question and answer segment. He reminded attendees that “some in-person elements are returning on February 7 — about 30 per cent of our offerings — and the remainder on February 28.” During the segment, students brought forward questions about campus life, academics, hybrid options, accommodations, and more.
One student asked why there were differences in the timing of the return to in-person learning between classes.
“Most of the courses that are beginning on February 7 include elements that are very difficult to replicate in an online environment,” Gough explained. For this reason, departments were asked to consult course instructors to discern which courses fit into this category, and these courses have been prioritized during the return to in-person learning.
One student expressed that they feel, recognizing the large tuition students pay, that students should be able to choose whether they want to return to in-person learning.
“We are actually offering online options this term,” said Gough in response. He elaborated that approximately 20 per cent of classes are being offered fully online this term. However, he emphasized that U of T, under regular circumstances, is not a remote university and that the in-person learning experience is “highly valued” by the university.
Katherine Larson — vice-dean teaching, learning & undergraduate programs — explained that the faculty has been asked to design courses in a manner that allows for accommodations for students that are sick or immunocompromised, who may not feel comfortable returning to campus.
Another common topic pertaining to academics was the credit/no credit (CR/NCR) policy for the remaining winter semester. In the past, CR/NCR and late withdrawal policies have been eased following pandemic closures to provide students more leeway with their courses. The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) has been advocating for an increase in the amount of credits that can be designated CR/NCR.
On the question of whether there would be the option for unlimited CR/NCR for the remaining term, Gough said, “We haven’t come to a landing on that issue… we’ve had some discussions with the SCSU.” He said that he is discussing the topic with the Faculty of Arts & Science and UTM to “have a unified approach.”
Larson also tackled questions about learning abroad options for this term. Study abroad for the winter 2022 semester was cancelled at the end of the fall 2021 semester. She explained that the university was bound by “travel restrictions that are mandated by the government.”
Campus after return to in-person learning
Students asked many questions about what they can expect upon returning to campus.
Fran Wdowczyk, director, business development & special advisor to the CAO operations and special projects, announced that restaurants on campus will be open when students return.
The university will also allocate spaces where students can eat. Wdowczyk said, “We will have a number of common spaces available and open for eating, including the large atrium spaces in the meeting place and IC atrium.” They added that more spaces will be made available as demand grows.
Sheila John, assistant dean, wellness, recreation & sport, spoke about the reopening of athletics and recreation facilities and programs. The athletics and recreation drop-in programs will be open starting February 7, whereas the intramural and interhouse programs will open in the following weeks. Additionally, virtual options will remain available for those unable to attend in person.
Students will also have access to various study spaces, including the library. Other study spaces will prominently display QR codes for contact tracing.
Finally, for students new to the campus, the university is looking into arranging guided campus tours. Shelby Verboven, registrar & director of enrolment management for UTSC, added, “We also have a variety of virtual and online campus tours that you can use to acclimatize yourself.”
Mask guidelines and safety protocols on campus
On the topic of mask guidelines on campus, Jeff Miller, director, facilities management & capital projects, said, “We are recommending level two or three medical masks in lieu of the cloth masks and that is coming in through some CDC guidance that we are getting.”
Though cloth masks are considered acceptable, Holly Yuen, manager, environmental health & safety, said that the university’s recommendation for students is “to have a high level of protection for everyone.”
Miller added that the university’s cleaning and safety protocols also align with CDC guidance. “We are cleaning high-touch points twice a day and we are cleaning the spaces both before and after class… There will be hand sanitizer stations at the entry to classes and there’ll be wipes readily available.” Furthermore, he added that the university will look into creating decompression spaces for students to get a break from masking.
Miller also commented on how the university will react to students not adhering to masking and social-distancing guidelines. He suggests that if someone on campus is not wearing a mask, students should “say something about it in an encouraging way — recognizing that, you know, we’re trying to… encourage people to respect one another, respect one another’s health and safety.”