On Feb. 23, I released draft principles to guide academic planning for the Fall 2021 Term. The document defines three potential scenarios that align with Brock’s Stages for Pandemic Response and Recovery and lists the preparations the University is undertaking for each scenario. It also reiterates that academic planning is rightly within the purview of academic departments and Faculties and emphasizes Brock’s commitment to be “as open as possible” in the Fall, with the intention of welcoming our students back to campus.
I have spent the last month consulting on the document, speaking with students, staff, faculty members and librarians to understand their concerns. I spoke with academic leaders, including Deans, Associate Deans and Chairs. I met with the Presidents of the Brock University Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ Association, as well as with union leaders on campus. I presented to Senate and to its committees, and I invited feedback from all members of Senate. I want to thank every member of our community who took the time to engage with the document and share their thoughts. I would like to reflect on some of the comments I heard from the community during the consultation process.
One of our greatest challenges as the Fall Term approaches will be in managing our own anxiety and that of those around us. COVID has turned our lives upside down for the last year. Yet, as strange as this new way of living may seem, we have slowly become accustomed to it. The prospect of returning to campus thus rightly makes some people nervous. But with the promise of near-universal immunization over the next few months, the pandemic will end and we must learn to resume living in most respects as we did before — for the sake of our own mental health and for that of our students, to restore the post-secondary experience students expect from us, and for the financial well-being of our University. We will approach the coming academic year with optimism supported by careful planning and confidence in our ability to navigate this new transition as a community.
The University remains committed to ensuring that campus is safe, as it has been throughout the pandemic. The public health guidelines that may exist come September will be in place on our campus, as they have been throughout the pandemic. Processes are already in place through Human Resources for those who might wish to seek medical accommodations on health-related grounds.
Similarly, it is important to emphasize the critical role the academic planning process will play in preparing for the Fall. I strongly believe that, as in normal times, the subject matter experts are best positioned to rule on matters of scheduling and mode of delivery. The public health measures brought on by the pandemic have forced us to think about mode of delivery a bit differently this past year, and as we look forward to the Fall Term, we will monitor the situation continuously and work with Deans and their academic units to consider shifting course delivery as needed. We also know that some instructors have developed new ways of teaching they would like to continue in the future. These requests should be discussed with department Chairs as part of the academic planning process. In all of our planning, we should keep our priorities focused on the transformational experience we have promised to our students.
I heard many questions in consultation about vaccinations, specifically about whether the University would require students, staff and faculty members to be vaccinated before attending campus. This question has significant legal implications and has been the topic of much conversation across universities and colleges in the sector. At present, there is no clear answer to this question. As we have been doing over the past year, we will continue to make informed decisions by seeking expert advice and partnering with other institutions in our sector to share information and key considerations. I will provide more information if we decide to revisit the issue at a later date.
Finally, I was often asked when the University would decide “for certain” the format for Fall instruction. Brock is sending a strong message to members of its community and to prospective students that we plan to be ready to return to campus in the Fall. Nor is Brock alone in this position. All of Ontario’s universities and most colleges have made similar commitments. Even the District School Board of Niagara announced plans to return exclusively to in-school education in September. I believe that a return to campus is a realistic objective, and one that I trust will become increasingly so in the coming months as the rate of vaccination increases. By June 15, we should be in a position to finalize our plans for the Fall, with the understanding that we will always be prepared to react to any changes to the public health situation should they arise.
Thank you again for your engagement and valuable feedback in recent weeks. I will continue to provide regular updates as the Fall Term approaches and, as always, I am happy to discuss preparations with any member of the Brock community.