As Peel, Ontario and Canada continue to make tremendous progress in the vaccination effort against COVID-19, I wanted to touch base about UTM’s plans for the fall 2021 academic semester.
As I wrote to our community in late March, we remain hopeful that we will gather together in September for in-person teaching, research and learning on UTM’s beautiful campus—and we have even more reason for optimism now, with rates of COVID-19 in decline. We also have reason for continued vigilance and flexibility as we strive to curtail the spread of variants and prevent a potential fourth wave.
Our plans for the fall recognize both the optimism and uncertainty of our context. We have scheduled a range of in-person classes and labs, excited to enable safely the joyful comradery that physical connections help create: even more classes may incorporate in-person components as provincial safety regulations allow, especially as we look further ahead to the winter 2022 timetable.
In fall 2021, UTM will also provide many other wonderful reasons for students to come to campus: to join student groups and clubs; to use library and spaces; to enjoy opportunities in fitness and recreation; to participate in boot camps for laboratory learning; to embrace all the enriching experiences that comprise a vibrant UTM education.
Concurrently, mindful of the challenges that remain, we also want to provide students and families with reassurance. We have scheduled many fall classes and experiences to occur online, ready to implement technological innovations developed over the past year. We encourage students to come to campus. But we’ll continue to teach students where they are even if they can’t.
Similarly, we look forward to seeing many employees in person, especially those in operational, teaching, student-facing, and research-focused roles; we also look forward to collaborating with other colleagues online as we offer options in flexible work as needed and feasible.
We have rooted these plans in several complementary bases: that decisions must prioritize the health and well-being of our community; that ideas need to adapt as public health guidelines develop; and that different activities—and different people—will return to campus at different paces. We plan to maintain a suite of science-backed safety measures and to update these measures as new information emerges, focused on deepening our collaboration with Peel Public Health and following expert advice specific to the Peel Region.
We also plan to prioritize transparency in our campus communications. We will continue to share COVID-related information and resources on our UTM and UTogether webpages and to post new instalments in the Focus on Fall video series, based on ideas raised during May’s community reflection forums. Our communications can’t—and shouldn’t—dispel all uncertainty. But they can work to ease a cognitive burden, expressing a commitment to address the questions and issues that matter most to our community.
They can also express our culture of gratitude and care. Over the past 16 months, UTM has benefited from the thoughtful dedication of people across campus: from supervisors in campus residence to custodians in facilities management; from instructors in academic departments to librarians in front-line service; from students in online forums to researchers in physical laboratories; from staff in administrative units to teams in the UTM vaccine clinic. Your work has kept us safe, informed, engaged and so much more. You have continued to make our campus feel like a community even in this socially distanced year: thank you.
I look forward to staying connected over the summer and into the fall: both in-person and online.
Vice-President & Principal
University of Toronto Mississauga