On Friday, June 12, 2020, Alberta will enter Stage Two of its Relaunch Strategy, which allows for the opening of many public spaces, including libraries, restaurants and bars, movie theatres, gyms, and K-12 schools (fully in the fall). Additionally, restrictions will be loosened to allow for the resumption of some activities and larger gatherings, as long as public health measures are followed.
This is great news for our province. The success we have experienced to date in limiting the further spread of COVID-19 is the result of all of us working as a collective, and I am hopeful that we will continue to make progress while remaining vigilant.
While the context in Alberta has changed and significant progress has been made, our upcoming academic term will remain predominately virtual, with limited exceptions for classes and programs that require in-person interaction and extensive experiential learning.
On May 25, 2020, CUE released our reopening plan for the fall semester. The rationale and context for this decision was outlined on our COVID-19 website on May 4, 2020, prior to decisions being finalized. While the relaxation of certain restrictions makes it seemingly possible for universities to open up more fully, the constraints that forced our decision to adopt predominately virtual learning for September remain. We are standing by our decision and reopening plan for the following reasons:
- We recognize the need to make decisions in advance for our students, faculty, and staff to plan accordingly. The decision to offer predominately virtual classes with limited exceptions was not made hastily—after several weeks of discussion and planning with multiple stakeholder groups, we decided this was the best path forward for our community. Our plans are currently being implemented, including course scheduling, campus modifications, plans for enhanced cleaning and safety protocols, and how our various offices will operate safely.
- We recognize that uncertainty impacts the ability to offer high-quality learning experiences. It is essential for our faculty and sessional instructors to have the information and resources they need to plan for and prepare high-quality courses and learning experiences. It is not reasonable to expect our faculty to prepare multiple versions of their courses on the off chance that we suddenly change our decision and go in a different direction for the fall semester. Our faculty have been working diligently to prepare high-quality, mostly remote learning experiences and are looking forward to working with our students in the fall.
- We recognize that our students have been planning for a mostly virtual semester. This includes making decisions about where they will live, the courses they will take, and the sorts of other activities they will choose to engage in either virtually or in-person. This includes our international students who cannot attend campus in the fall because of travel restrictions. As is the case with our instructors and course planning, making sudden changes to our reopening plan represents an unfair burden.
- We recognize the potential for a second wave of COVID-19. The health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our top priority, and we are committed to acting responsibly. If we were to welcome all of our students back to campus only to have a sudden outbreak of COVID-19, we would be forced to find and implement band-aid solutions that would put our community at risk. Were that to happen, the lack of foresight from CUE’s administration given what we know would be unforgivable. Your health comes first.
- We recognize the pandemic isn’t over. Until there is an approved, available, and accessible vaccine, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains present. Our community includes members who are in high-risk groups with respect to the consequences of contracting COVID-19, and those who have friends and family members in those groups. We need to continue to protect our community—expecting those who are vulnerable to learn, work, and potentially live, in close quarters with others during a pandemic is neither fair nor inclusive.
- We recognize the need for physical distancing. Our early data suggests that we may have over 4000 students in the fall, and we lack the physical space required to accommodate two metres of physical distancing, which will also be required in Stage Three of the Relaunch Strategy.We currently have four classrooms able to accommodate 15-20 students with physical distancing, meaning we are incapable of hosting in-person classes in the fall. Additionally, our common spaces, including Tegler, cannot accommodate even a fraction of our community while respecting physical distancing.
The health, safety, and wellbeing of our CUE community and extended Edmonton community remains our top priority. Entering Stage Two of Alberta’s Relaunch Strategy has made me more optimistic that we will be able to welcome all of our students back to campus in January 2021. We will, however, need to monitor the situation in the months to come in order to make an informed decision.
With restrictions continuing to loosen, I am hopeful that we will be able to host a greater variety of appropriately physically-distanced and creative social events throughout the fall semester. I will continue to keep you updated on our plans and look forward to gathering once again.
As I have said previously, this situation is extremely difficult but the strength of our community is such that we are continuing to experience success as we move through this moment in our history, and there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Tim Loreman, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor
June 10, 2020