Update from Dean Woodin about fall 2021 planning

June 22, 2021 by A&S News

Dear A&S Students, Staff, and Faculty,

As we enter summer, with just two months until the Fall Term, I recognize the importance of providing as much clarity as possible around our plans for September, and especially our transition back to in-person learning. Below is an update on the progress we have seen since my last message on May 26, followed by an update on our plans for the start of the academic year.

Regarding the current environment, I am very encouraged by the following:

  1. Vaccinations: Currently, 84% of eligible Ontarians have received at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the public vaccination tracking website developed by researchers at U of T. The Province of Ontario is moving forward on an accelerated plan for all Ontarians to receive their second dose before the end of summer. Once again, I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated.
  2. Advice from Public Health Experts: I connected with infectious disease epidemiologist Professor Ashleigh Tuite of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health for her insight on the current progress with vaccines in relation to our plans and the timing of a full return to in-person learning. “The key right now is to continue to ramp up second doses,” says Professor Tuite. “The more we can get everyone fully vaccinated, the more confident we can feel about the Government’s reopening plans staying on track and getting back to campus.”
  1. U of T Planning Process: As a result of the progress with vaccinating the public, the Province of Ontario began lifting restrictions on June 11. The Federal Government also announced they are easing quarantine restrictions for Canadians and permanent residents who are fully vaccinated. These are both very positive indicators and planning continues across the University to support students, faculty and staff as we transition safely to on-campus activities across our three campuses. Here again below are some of the key links you can continue to monitor for updates on the University-wide preparations.

As I mentioned in my last message, one of the issues we have been closely considering for our Faculty is what, if any, physical distancing measures may still be in place in September and how that would impact our ability to return fully to in-person learning. In addition to monitoring the Ontario Government’s plans for reopening, we are watching with excitement other jurisdictions in the United States and elsewhere and how the speed and success of mass vaccinations has resulted in the lifting of distancing and mask requirements.

The above updates represent incredible progress in a brief period, and I am confident our plans are aligning well with the pace of reopening. This is all cause for continued optimism. However, the return to public gatherings and the logistical arrangements we all need to make before September are not a simple flip of a switch after more than a year of doing most things virtually. And I have heard directly from international students and from ASSU on behalf of international students, about logistical challenges they are encountering with their plans to return to Canada. Flight availability is limited in some countries, and they must plan for quarantining upon arrival. Everyone’s preparations and potential challenges will be different over the next two months, and I am focused on making the start of the academic year as smooth as possible given the current situation.

With these considerations in mind, I am making an important modification to our planning. While I am extremely excited to see you all on campus in September, I have decided that when the term begins, students in Arts & Science will be permitted to attend their classes online for the first two weeks, until September 23. The start date for the Fall Term remains unchanged and classes will begin on Thursday, September 9 as planned. Students will be contacted directly by their instructors, near the start of term, about their options for accessing their classes during these first two weeks. After September 23, all classes that are identified as taking place in-person will proceed as in-person.

As conditions continue to improve, some of the issues we may be seeing now may not be present in September. However, the goal of this modified start is to acknowledge that we are, and will still be, in a period of transition when the academic year begins, and to try to ease potential pressures or last-minute time crunch students may experience around final arrangements, arrivals, and other logistics at the start of term.

I thank you, as always, for your support and patience as we try to be nimble and responsive and to make informed decisions for the benefit and safety of our whole community. As everyone can appreciate, our plans will continue to be guided by public health measures and, in addition to this slightly modified approach to the fall start, we must continue to be ready to adapt as needed.

Please do continue to check our UTogether at A&S website for more information, including the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) that are regularly updated for undergraduate students, as well as information about the University’s plans on the main UTogether website. And the fall/winter timetable will be available by late June. In the meantime, you can continue to consult the list of 2021–22 undergraduate course offerings in preparation for enrolment in July.

I wish you all well and look forward to connecting with you again in July with my next update.

Best Regards,

Dean Woodin

Melanie A. Woodin
Dean, Faculty of Arts & Science
Professor, Department of Cell & Systems Biology
University of Toronto