May 19, 2020
To members of the University of Toronto community:
I hope that you and your families are in good health and spirits in these extraordinary and challenging times.
I am writing with an update on the University’s emerging plans for the Fall 2020 semester. Much still remains uncertain. While Ontario has begun a staged approach to reopening the province, it is difficult to predict which stage we will be in when September arrives. Indeed, with the University of Toronto spread across different parts of the Greater Toronto Area, each of our three campuses may experience unique conditions, requiring distinctive responses. Local context will matter.
Nevertheless, I am acutely aware of our community’s need to plan for the fall, just as I am conscious of the many different concerns and priorities we must balance in making those plans. Accordingly, our planning has focused on three guiding principles: promoting health and safety, advancing academic excellence, and meeting the needs of our community – our students, faculty, librarians, and staff.
Recovery: Three Guiding Principles
Health and Safety
The University of Toronto is preparing for a gradual, safe return to our campuses, with as much on-campus activity as is practicable, sensible, and safe. As the University develops its plans, we are committed first and foremost to the health and safety of our entire community. To that end, we are following the advice of public health authorities. The University is currently developing guidelines to assist in the areas of research, laboratories, environmental health and safety, student experience, residences, libraries, athletics, and more. These guidelines will be shared broadly with the U of T community over the coming days. We do not have all of the answers yet, but in the face of a tremendously complex and constantly evolving situation, we will need to be agile and responsive. Our community’s health and safety remain our highest priorities.
Plans are being developed for a fall term that mixes smaller, on-campus courses, seminars, labs, and experiential learning, with larger online and remote courses and lectures. We are benefiting from the experience and advice of our Deans and Principals, who are most familiar with local needs and academic requirements in their divisions and campuses. We are also tapping the expertise of our faculty members, who are devising courses that are flexible and adaptable, accommodating – and mobilizing – various modes of teaching and learning. We are supporting them in this effort, with the assistance of our Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation, our librarians, and the resources of our three-campus instructional support network. The result will be a rich set of academic experiences for students to explore, whether they attend on-campus, virtually, or in some combination. In all cases, a University of Toronto education will continue to be characterized by the elements that have come to define it: intellectual stimulation, rigour, collaboration, and discovery.
Similarly, we expect the University’s research mission to return to full force in the fall, building on the lessons and extraordinary achievements of recent months. On-campus laboratory and library spaces will be adapted to the requirements of physical distancing, while we continue to leverage the power and possibilities of virtual research and instructional settings where helpful or necessary. As it adapts to new circumstances, the University of Toronto’s research community will continue to set the highest standards of excellence, innovation, and accomplishment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us of the value and importance of an understanding, caring community. We have all worked together, albeit at a distance, to care for each other. As we get back to our campuses, classrooms, laboratories, and libraries – virtually or physically – we will continue to work together, to collaborate, to interact, and to help one another adjust and adapt. We will dedicate ourselves to making sure that, regardless of any hurdles we face individually, every member of our community will be supported for success: we are all part of one University of Toronto.
I have been much inspired by your dedication to the tasks we set ourselves at the beginning of March: protecting the health and wellbeing of all members of our community; ensuring that our students could complete their term; providing accommodation and support for those students who were unable to return home; and continuing to conduct critical research focused on COVID-19 and other time-sensitive work. These are striking accomplishments.
As we look toward the fall, we know the 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.
I thank you all for your continuing dedication to the success of the University of Toronto.
Meric S. Gertler