UTogether2020: A Roadmap for the University of Toronto

Introduction


The University of Toronto is in the process of gradually and safely returning to our campuses for students, faculty, librarians and staff, with as much on-campus activity as is practical, sensible, and safe.

Like most of our peer institutions across Canada, the majority of our courses for the Fall are being offered remotely and  most faculty, staff and librarians are continuing to work at home as they have since March.

This roadmap serves as a guide to our community as we develop and undertake the process of returning to research, course instruction and other activities to our campuses in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the latest information, answers to frequently asked questions and other resources, please also visit the U of T’s UTogether2020 website, a one-stop hub of information on how the University is managing the pandemic.

We are committed first and foremost to the health and safety of our entire community during the COVID-19 pandemic. To that end, we are following the advice of public health authorities as we focus on three guiding principles:

  1. Promoting health and safety
  2. Advancing academic excellence
  3. Meeting the needs of our community

If you have any questions and concerns, please contact us by submitting your query here. As we get back to our campuses – virtually or physically – we will continue to work together and to help one another adjust and adapt. 

Background


In early March, the University of Toronto activated its Crisis and Emergency Framework to manage our coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Incident Leadership Team (ILT), led by Vice-President and Provost, Professor Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President of Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives, Professor Vivek Goel, oversaw six teams focusing on academic continuity, students, research operations, human resources and equity, business continuity and operations, and communications.

The University’s initial focus was in three key areas: to ensure our students’ progress and completion of studies, to support COVID-19 and time-sensitive research, and to provide a welcoming place to live for those students who were unable to go home. Almost overnight, more than 6,300 courses moved to remote means of instruction, and the majority of U of T’s staff and faculty began working from home.

As we move from crisis response to more long-term planning, the ILT has now been disbanded. Many of its members have returned to their former roles, and we have reverted to our normal structures, with adaptations as needed to support our continued response efforts.

Professor Goel, in his new role as Special Advisor to the President and Provost, will now lead the University’s operational response to the pandemic on a day-to-day basis. To assist him, the University has created the Response and Adaptation Unit, a small, dedicated team housed in the Provost’s Office, and a tri-campus Response and Adaptation Committee. Should the need arise in the future, we would reactivate the University’s crisis framework along with an appropriate ILT structure.

With this roadmap, we hope to provide further guidance to assist in the areas of research, laboratories, environmental health and safety, student experience, residences, libraries, athletics, and more.

Health and Safety


The commitment to the health and safety of all members of our U of T community is paramount. A phased approach to returning to our campuses will follow the requirements of government and public health authorities. The Ontario Government’s Framework for Reopening our Province has outlined three phases of return, and the University of Toronto’s return will follow the stages set out in this roadmap. 

Over the summer, the University has been busy preparing for a gradual return to campus, with as much on-campus activity as is practical, sensible and safe. While the vast majority of our community will continue to work and study remotely, some of you will be returning to campus. At every step, we continue to follow the advice of government and public health authorities. The University’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Office will keep the community apprised of any and all requirements, and lists several resources on their website to assist the community with safe re-entry to campus activities, including the following documents:

To help keep our community safe and healthy, U of T has implemented a wide array of safety measures that include the use of non-medical masks in common spaces in our buildings including classrooms, reducing the number of people on our campuses, enhanced cleaning protocols and extensive signage to encourage physical distancing at our St. GeorgeUniversity of Toronto Mississauga and University of Toronto Scarborough campuses.

Our latest measure is UCheck, a self-assessment web portal that allows faculty members, librarians, staff, and students to generate a COVID-19 risk status by completing a quick and thorough self-assessment that is tailored to U of T. This status will help inform individuals whether they are at risk of spreading the virus and will allow the University to better support our workforce and student population as we move into the fall. UCheck has been developed in partnership with Thrive Health, a leading healthcare technology company with expertise in protecting individuals’ private health information. Thrive Health has worked closely with Health Canada and the Government of Canada to provide evidence-based resources, national statistics, and self-assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UCheck is available for the U of T community at ucheck.utoronto.ca on computers, smartphones, and tablets. We highly encourage all individuals to use UCheck every time they plan to be on campus to help keep our community healthy and safe. More details and FAQs on how to use UCheck are available at utoronto.ca/utogether2020/ucheck

In addition, we encourage members of the community to install the COVID Alert App, which provides for potential exposure notifications.

Travel Restrictions

International travel restrictions will likely remain in place for some time. When these restrictions are lifted, there will likely be strict quarantine requirements for those coming to our campuses from abroad, such as international students and new faculty. The University will support travellers to meet these self-isolation requirements.  The University has developed guiding principles to facilitate access to on or off-campus accommodations for new and returning students coming from outside of Canada, to enable them to fulfill the mandatory quarantine requirements set up by the Government of Canada.

Mask or Face Coverings

The Governing Council of the University of Toronto has approved a Policy on Non-Medical Masks or Face Coverings, effective August 10, 2020. This temporary Policy requires non-medical masks or face coverings to be worn indoors in common-use spaces including classrooms on University property at all three campuses. Additional information and details about the application of the Policy, exceptions, and medical accommodations are available in an accompanying draft Guideline. The draft Guideline may be updated periodically as our response to COVID-19 evolves. 

Cleaning

The University of Toronto is implementing a caretaking strategy that involves increased frequency of cleaning of shared public spaces. Hand sanitizer stations and wipe dispensers will be added to many high-traffic, high-use areas, such as libraries, classrooms and shared office spaces. The University has also implemented a heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning strategy to help maintain a safe indoor environment.

Workplace

Workplace measures will be put in place for employees, including staggered shifts and flexible work arrangements to reduce the risk of transmission. The Division of HR & Equity’s HR & Equity COVID-19 Main page includes a range of resources, such as a Best Practices for Managing Remotely (Guideline) and a Temporary Special Telecommuting Work Arrangements Guideline. Physical distancing requirements in offices, labs and common spaces will be applied.

You can read more information about the University’s plans for a safe return to workplace operations and protocols in place to respond to cases on campus this Fall.

Accessibility & Accommodation


The impacts of the current disruption due to COVID-19 have had a disproportionate impact on faculty, librarians, staff, and students with disabilities, including those with multiple, intersecting identities. As we gradually and safely return to our campuses, we have developed planning resources and guidelines to proactively address new potential physical and attitudinal barriers to accessibility for members of the University community with disabilities.

The University of Toronto has a longstanding commitment to accessibility and accommodation, and to meeting our obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. If for reasons related to a disability, you anticipate or experience barriers to accessibility that have arisen out of the return to U of T campuses, or which may impact an accommodation you already have in place, the University has resources to support you.

Academic Excellence


Academic Programs

The majority of teaching and learning activities will continue to be offered remotely. We recognize the value of on-campus and face-to-face instruction, as conditions allow. But we also recognize that limitations may be imposed by public health officials as physical distancing and travel restrictions continue into the Fall.

While the situation will vary from one division or campus to another, and may continue to evolve, the aggregate picture is consistent with our earlier commitment to offer a rich mix of learning opportunities and formats, combining online and in-person modes of delivery.

Close to 90 percent of undergraduate students are enrolled in online courses and we are following public health directives on class sizes. About 10 percent of undergraduate students will have at least one in-person course this term. This includes programs where the students need in-person activity to graduate, such as labs. 

We anticipate that a higher proportion of our graduate courses will be offered in person, owing to their generally smaller size, but aggregate information on this activity is still being collected.

The University has developed and updated a number of resources to assist divisions and faculty members with navigating teaching and learning activities:

We will continue to draw on our faculty members’ expertise in online teaching models to ensure the high-quality learning experience expected of a U of T education. We will also prioritize on-campus activities to the extent they are possible. We are committed to providing a University of Toronto education that continues to be defined by intellectual stimulation, rigour, collaboration, and discovery.

Research

During the initial phase of the crisis, most on-campus research operations and labs were safely closed down, with the exception of some critical time-sensitive and COVID-19 research. We supported a range of fabrication and manufacturing efforts across the three campuses (e.g., 3-D printing, N95 mask testing, etc.); launched a COVID-19 Action Fund and Institutional Strategic Initiatives (ISI) to coordinate and provide approximately $9 million in funding for 36 pandemic-related research projects; maintained relations with our hospital partners; and developed a website to collect and promote COVID-19 volunteer opportunities.

We have begun to re-open those research labs that were previously closed, following a process that complies with public health directives and follows institutional principles and guidelines. A Principles for Research Recovery and Adaptation document is available and includes guidance on which research activities were phased in first. Accompanying the Principles are two companions: (1) Approach for Research Recovery and Adaptation – which outlines the process and risk assessment considerations for gradual and controlled research recovery and adaption on- and off-campus and (2) COVID-19 Guideline for Reopening Research which provides strategies and the University’s requirements for making research spaces ready for re-entry or increased occupancy.

Our Community


The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the importance of building an understanding, caring community. Since March, we have been working hard to protect the health and well-being of all members of our community. We have ensured that our students completed their term. We have provided accommodation to those students unable to return home, and we launched emergency bursary funds for those students in need of help due to the pandemic. For the city and public at large, we continued to conduct critical research focused on COVID-19 and supported a range of fabrication and manufacturing efforts for PPE.

U of T residences remain open and are operating according to principles we have developed with our divisional and College leaders and in line with public health requirements. These include reduced numbers of students in residence, limits to gathering sizes and the use of common spaces, and changes to the way food service is delivered.

We recognize that the student experience is a critical element of life on our campuses. For incoming students, orientation and transition programs and events are critical to student success and community-building at U of T. We want to ensure that all students have access to orientation activities regardless of their location and to offer a guide for divisions and student organizations as they coordinate their own orientation events.

Student Life teams on all three campuses are expanding plans to provide remote delivery of student services across time zones, such as orientation and co-curricular activities, based on principles developed in consultation with student leaders.

For questions or concerns related to plans for students’ safe return to campus activities, consult the UTogether2020: Student Roadmap Information and the Students COVID-19 FAQ page.

For our graduate students, we are engaged in research continuity planning, providing assistance through an emergency bursary fund, and offering mentorship and professional development programming. This is all to improve graduate student experience, and positively impact academic and career outcomes.

Whether it be online or in-person, as we get back to our campuses, classrooms, laboratories, and libraries, we will collaborate to help one another adjust and adapt as a community.

Conclusion


We know recovery will take time, resolve, patience, and resilience. There may be setbacks and surprises along the way. But as we welcome new and returning students on-campus or online, we look forward to resuming the rich, vibrant, and stimulating academic life for which the University of Toronto is so widely recognized. We will do so safely, pursuing academic excellence, in partnership with the entire University community, wherever its members are located.