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President Robins - Fall 2020 Update

Sep. 08

Dear members of the Victoria University community,

This Fall Term is beginning in circumstances unlike any of us could have imagined a year ago. This academic year will present ongoing challenges, for the COVID pandemic remains with us. The faculty, students and staff at Victoria University continue to show an inspiring degree of resilience, kindness and ingenuity in responding to so many novel demands. I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am for the hard work and dedication that so many of them have put in throughout the last six months to get us to this point. Thanks to them, we start this academic year confident that we have measures in place to fulfill our academic mission while addressing very significant public health concerns.

Many of the University’s programs and activities have been shifted to be conducted remotely instead of in person. This shift constitutes a major undertaking, especially for an institution like Victoria that is so dedicated to small-scale in-person conversations. In addition, we will continue to have students, faculty, and staff on the Victoria campus, although in reduced numbers.

As at universities everywhere, one of our biggest areas of decision-making over the last months has been determining which University activities will take place in-person and which will take place remotely. In preparing for the academic year, our decision-making has been guided by a few key principles. 

  1. Our response to COVID is aligned with the University of Toronto’s response. The University of Toronto has opted to offer a combination of on-line and in-person course options, to provide on-campus residence for students who wish it, and to enable research projects to continue on site if they need to. At Victoria we will do our part to achieve these goals successfully and safely.

  2. As a public health matter, we are committed to reducing the density of traffic on our campus. This means that staff members will be on campus only if their presence on campus is necessary to support academic instruction, residence life, research projects, or essential services. There will be no external or internal in-person events until further notice. Some indoor spaces will be closed, and others will be restricted to members of the Victoria community.

  3. Our return to campus will be cautious and gradual. As we begin the term we will emphasize our commitment to reducing the density of traffic on our campus, and we will review the success and appropriateness of our measures on a regular basis. 

Here are some snapshots of what the Fall Term will entail.  

Classes

All of Emmanuel College’s classes will be delivered remotely. At Victoria College, all classes will be available remotely, even as many will also offer in-person sections. The classrooms at both colleges will host other U of T courses, but at less than half the normal number, and with classrooms reconfigured to have only a fraction of their normal capacity.

Residences

Victoria’s residences are open, with about one third of the normal number of resident students. All rooms are singles, and most students will have their own washroom. A number of rooms have been set aside in case they are needed for isolation.

Student Services and Community Building

Staff who work with and support our students will be available in-person, by phone, and on-line. Academic advising and counselling will take place on-line. First-year orientations have been taking place entirely on-line, and the same will be the case for co-curricular and community-building activities throughout the term. A variety of spaces have been reconfigured to accommodate students studying between classes, including at the Pratt Library and the Goldring Student Centre. A number of initiatives are underway to use technology to create a welcoming sense of community.

Research

Faculty members have access to their offices, even as they are encouraged to conduct their research remotely as much as possible. Special collections at the library will be open to researchers by appointment only. We are working closely with the University of Toronto Libraries on providing access to books in our collections, either through digitized copies or curb-side pickup. Research workshops and international conferences have been postponed or will be hosted on-line.

The Victoria University Community

A strong sense of community remains central to Victoria’s identity. Accordingly, departments are sharing ideas about adopting digital solutions to community building.

Like many of you, I wish that we could have more certainty about how the COVID pandemic will play out.  Uncertainty, ambiguity, unpredictability—these states generate considerable anxiety, even more acute than the anxiety caused by threats whose risks are known. It is true that we now understand better how to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and at Victoria we have reconfigured our spaces, ventilation systems, programs and protocols accordingly. But much uncertainty remains about how the public health situation will evolve, especially as we move into the Fall and Winter.

Our reopening plans have been designed to address public health concerns as thoroughly as possible, and to allow for possible adaptations as the school year progresses. As we move through the upcoming months, we will review our measures on a regular basis and we will be communicating frequently with students, faculty and staff. We will make sure that Victoria continues to stand out as a caring, compassionate community, as we navigate this changing landscape together.

William Robins
President
Victoria University in the University of Toronto

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