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Update from Graham Carr on our gradual return to campus

Read a message from Concordia's president
June 9, 2020
By Graham Carr

Dear colleagues,

It was great to see so many of you on the numerous Zoom calls that Anne Whitelaw and I held with the community recently. Thank you again for making the time, for asking questions, and for offering advice. And let me repeat my thanks for doing all you can for Concordia at this challenging time.  

As we move into summer, I wanted to update you on our progress in preparing for the fall semester and our plans for the gradual return to campus under extremely unusual circumstances.

It bears repeating that our priorities are to do our utmost to:

  • provide the best possible educational opportunities and university experience for our students;
  • support our faculty and graduate students’ research and creative activity; and
  • take decisions that protect Concordians’ health and safety while ensuring that the university is a responsible civic partner in Greater Montreal and Quebec.

Staff and working from home

As we explained during the town halls, we expect that the vast majority of our staff will continue to work from home for the balance of the summer. Depending on how the public health situation evolves it may be possible to bring some staff onto campus before the end of August, but at this point it’s simply not possible to predict that. Nor do we expect to be able to allow faculty members to use their offices as workplaces during the summer.

Fall online preparations

The provost’s teaching and learning working group, which has representatives from all faculties as well as core units such as CTL, IITS, the libraries and K1, is working hard to prepare for a fall semester taught largely online. The working group has six sub-committees that are exploring best practices and developing guidelines and aids for:

  • Synchronous and asynchronous teaching
  • Academic integrity and assessments
  • Policy issues
  • In-person coordination
  • Student learning and wellness
  • Online teaching support

Consistent with what we announced on May 14, we are already working with the faculties to devise flexible models that would allow some teaching and learning activities, such as labs and studio work, to take place on campus.

Naturally, we want to create opportunities to bring students to campus. But we need to work within the physical configurations of our campuses, in particular our vertical presence downtown. There is also the fact that most students come to our campuses by public transit (including a metro stop that opens directly into our buildings) or by shuttle bus. In short, there are many variables to consider.

Should the public health situation evolve in a positive direction we will be in a position to make further adaptations, where feasible, in consultation with the faculties. As the fall term approaches, we will assess whether there are some in-class or non-classroom activities or services, such as limited library access or community engagement events, that could safely be offered to students.

Even in these scenarios, however, it remains imperative to address the needs of students, faculty and staff who cannot be on campus. This is why we will also be working hard to create the best possible virtual experience of Concordia and Montreal for students who cannot travel to campus.

As with all aspects of our gradual return to campus, our first priority remains health and safety.

Gradual reopening of labs

As Paula Wood-Adams, our Interim VP of Research and Graduate Studies, explained in her message last week, over the last month, a cross-sectoral working group has been hard at work with Concordia’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department developing a carefully staggered and gradual Return to Campus plan for research. 

Like all Quebec universities we are following guidelines of the CNESST and IRSST with regard to mandatory training and monitoring of personnel returning to campus, provision of PPE on a need-to basis, and planning for the sanitization and subsequent use of shared spaces such as stairs, elevators and eating areas. 

As you can appreciate, there are significant differences in lab spaces and personnel needs across research fields. There is also a high degree of variability in the layout and configuration of our different buildings on our two campuses. Following the successful pilot phase that began on May 25, during which we opened 11 labs, we are gradually beginning to implement the next phase of lab re-opening.

This will involve up to 50 labs in the faculties, the Genomics (GE) building and PERFORM. The progress made and lessons learned from this process will help us determine the rate at which we can reopen the remaining labs, including those in the fine arts, humanities and social sciences.

Our current goal is to open the majority of the research labs that require onsite access by the end of July, but this remains subject to many factors, only some of which we control. Please note that, to help us maintain physical distancing, it is expected that individuals whose research can be performed remotely, or which involves computer-based labs, will continue to work remotely for the time being.

New funds for researchers and students

I am also very heartened by the announcement that a special research fund of $900,000 of new funding has been created to support individuals whose research has been set back by COVID-19-related disruptions. This initiative is an important sign of the university’s commitment to our research enterprise and will benefit many PI’s and their graduate students. The fund includes a $250,000 partnership with Mitacs that will provide research internships for 41 Concordia undergraduate students.

Quick drop-ins to campus

Since Monday, June 1, a streamlined process has been in place to allow staff and faculty members to request one-time access to campus to retrieve items that will help them work from home more comfortably, do their research or prepare for teaching.

In the very near future, we will let students know how they can request one-time access to campus to retrieve their belongings from lockers and other spaces.

As our planning for fall online teaching continues in the coming weeks, we will also be developing a protocol and schedule that will allow a limited number of faculty members to come to campus for a fixed period of time to use a classroom or lab setting to record lectures or demonstrations.

In closing, let me say how excited I am to see our on-campus research start up again. Even though the process is gradual, it’s an encouraging sign.

As always, the university will do its utmost to ensure a safe environment, but we must also remember that each of us has an important individual role to play in respecting the norms during our return to campus.

Thank you and be well,

Graham Carr
President and Vice-Chancellor

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