The role of the physical campus is changing. What’s next?
This is the second in a series of articles profiling the different working groups that make up Future Concordia. Want to know how you can contribute? Visit the project’s Get involved page for more information.
As higher education institutions across the world continue to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions about university space and the future of the physical campus have never been more pertinent.
Universities are navigating issues surrounding capacity limits, shared spaces and service-delivery models in ways that were unimaginable just two years ago.
So how is Concordia addressing these topics? Enter Barbara Henchey, Angela Tsafaras and the working group they are co-heading on campus space. The group is one of six that make up Future Concordia.
The project is leading a reflection on how the university can best fulfill its academic and research mission, provide an enhanced student experience and deliver outstanding administrative and operational services in a post-pandemic environment and beyond.
“Space is a really hot topic because it is a big part of our lives at Concordia from day one,” says Henchey, director in the Office of the Dean and Strategic Development at the John Molson School of Business.
“If you’re thinking pre-pandemic, you’re here more than you are at your home. So you can understand how people identify with the spaces and places that they’re in. People will completely individualize and personalize their space.”
Pandemic presents opportunities
For Tsafaras, manager of planning and academic facilities in the Office of the Dean at the Faculty of Fine Arts, her decision to co-lead the campus space working group has a lot to do with the possibilities for change the pandemic is offering.
“Everything related to space was amplified during the pandemic, even though the majority of Concordians weren’t on campus,” she says.
“Assessments of how we use space were exposed and now we have a window to make certain changes before people go back to the way things were beforehand.”
One of the themes that’s emerged from the discussions with the working group is the idea of opening spaces to facilitate access and collaboration. And while their mandate is to deal with imagining the future, the group’s members are also looking at the current situation to inform their recommendations.
“What seems to have kick-started with the pandemic is this feeling of togetherness. It was only by taking away that liberty that people reacted in an organic way to want to be together,” Henchey notes.
“In our conversations, we keep talking about how to make better spaces that are good for everyone at all times and that stimulate reflection, creativity and collaboration.”
Consultations and quick wins
All of the Future Concordia working groups recently resumed their efforts after taking a pause over the holiday break. The groups will meet two more times before submitting a final report in the form of a presentation to the project’s steering committee in May.
In the meantime, a consultation campaign will be launched in which students, faculty and staff can participate in a series of activities to discuss different themes and test certain concepts.
Both Henchey and Tsafaras are looking forward to the consultations and the results they will produce.
“One tiny thing that I hope our group accomplishes is recommending ideas that can be quickly implemented,” Tsafaras says. “We’ll have short-, medium- and long-term recommendations, but I’m also interested in what we can do right away with what we have.”
Henchey shares her co-lead’s enthusiasm and is excited by the prospect to positively affect Concordians’ everyday lives.
“What would be a huge win for us is the idea of fixing something to make someone’s life easier or better,” she explains. “We’re being given the liberty to really put ideas into play and we want to make sure that this kind of model can continue going forward.”