UTogether2020: A Roadmap for the University of Toronto

Introduction


The University of Toronto looks forward to a gradual and safe return to our campuses for all students, faculty, librarians and staff, with as much on-campus activity as is practicable, sensible, and safe.

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 in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the University develops its plans, 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. Since then, 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, has overseen 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.

With this guide, we are moving towards a safe return to our campuses for all members of our community by developing 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. 

As we move through these stages, several requirements will remain in place. All members of the community who have symptoms of COVID-19, or are required to quarantine due to contacts or travel history, must self-isolate. Physical distancing requirements for activities on our campuses will be based on the advice of public health officials. The University’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Office will advise on these and other requirements, including the use of personal protective equipment in certain roles. 

It is expected that in the early stages of return, most employees who are able to work from home will continue to do so for some or all of the time. During this phase, all elements of research that can be undertaken from home, such as data analysis and writing, will continue remotely. Instructional activities will be planned so that the best possible student experience will be provided in a safe manner. The University will also be mindful of local advice from public transit authorities. Above all, we must be prepared for a resurgence of cases in our community and for some public health measures to be re-imposed. 

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.

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 is 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. Physical distancing requirements in offices, labs and common spaces will be applied. The University’s EHS office has procedures in place in the event of probable or confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Academic Excellence


Academic Programs

Teaching and learning activities are not expected to be fully back to normal by September. 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. Accordingly, plans are being developed for a Fall term that mixes smaller, on-campus seminars, labs, and experiential learning with larger online and remote courses and lectures.

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. Further details will be available over the summer. Much still remains uncertain, but we are committed to providing a University of Toronto education that continues to be defined by intellectual stimulation, rigour, collaboration, and discovery.

Based on consultations with divisions, we have developed an Academic Continuity Strategy document that outlines the following principles:

  • The University will be operating and offering undergraduate and graduate academic programs and courses in Fall 2020. 
  • Divisions and departments are planning for a diverse set of courses and course activities in line with program and degree requirements, including offering remote and in-person opportunities for labs, seminars and studios, as well as internships and co-ops in the community. 
  • Flexible course design is critical as the situation is likely to evolve during the term, recognizing the possibility that new outbreaks may lead to renewed physical distancing measures.

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 are planning to restart research activities in compliance with public health directives and guidelines, and institutional considerations. A Principles for Research Recovery and Adaptation document is available and includes guidance on which research activities will be 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.

As we move toward a Fall return, all U of T residences will remain open. Our residences will be operated according to principles we have developed with our divisional and College leaders and in line with public health requirements. These have included and will likely continue to require 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 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


As we look toward the fall, we know recovery will take time, resolve, patience, and resilience. There may be setbacks and surprises along the way. But in September, 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.