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Reopening CUE for the 2020-21 Academic Year

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President Loreman’s report to GFC, May 22, 2020

Posted on: May 22, 2020
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COVID-19 Response:

Our institution has been widely recognized and lauded for its excellent response to the COVID-19 public health crisis. I am hearing praise from other presidents, the general public, politicians, and even a former Governor General of Canada, Rt. Hon. David Johnston. I’ve communicated previously about how proud I have been of CUE over the past couple of months, and how impressive it has been that our community has so effectively banded together. Our success in the face of such profound change and disruption to our normal operations has been accomplished with compassion, collegiality, and above all else concern for the well-being of our students. We have been kind and flexible, while at the same time ensuring that the integrity of our institution and processes have remained intact. No single individual can take the credit for this. Rather, it has been a distributed effort by our team of colleagues and friends who truly care about one another and especially our students. Thank you all for this.

What does the future look like?

GFC considered what our Fall semester will look like earlier in the agenda of this meeting, and for the past month or so administration has been signalling within the institution that we need to be prepared for the likelihood of online teaching in the Fall. When it boils down to it, our Fall semester will be marked by a continuation of physical distancing and the ongoing implementation of sensible measures aimed at keeping our community safe. This means that much of our work will by necessity continue to be performed remotely. Not many of us like that, but it is the reality of the time in which we live.

            Our goal for the Fall will be to provide high quality online learning experiences. Some of us know how to do this well already, and others will need help. Departments should discuss how they will work together to help one another, and the process and timelines they will need to follow in order to be adequately prepared for September. I hope that most faculty members and sessional instructors have already commenced the process of converting their Fall courses into compelling online versions. Muddling through is one thing, but high-quality online experiences cannot happen at the flick of a switch, and student expectations of a more seamless and planned experience will be greater than they were in Winter semester. Simply replacing in-class lectures with video lectures on Google won’t cut it. Administration is doing what it can to support these efforts. We have contracted Senior Educational Developer Daniel (Danny) Braun to provide advice and guidance and, should demand for his services justify it, we are prepared to expand his support team. IT Services are always ready to help. We have also invested in a new online platform called CUE-TV (a Concordia version of Netflix) that is open to anyone who wants to post content or live stream lectures and events.

            That said, we need to do what we can to physically reopen within the bounds of the health regulations and common sense. CUE cannot stay largely online forever, and neither do any of us want it to. For that reason, even as we hope for the swift development of a vaccine, it is important for our campus to gradually and safely re-emerge from what at times has been near lock down. Starting in August our offices will gradually reopen, and staff will be guided by their managers and directors with respect to how their areas will function. We will have at least some students on campus, and this will enable us to learn lessons that will help us to prepare for more extensive campus reopening in 2021. It will at times feel like a long, slow awakening from hibernation.

            CUE’s administration is already vaguely thinking ahead to Winter 2021. Obviously, we don’t know where we will be, but universities require months of lead-time to plan and so it is prudent to begin thinking about what the landscape might look like in January 2021. It is too early to be making plans for that just yet, but just as with our Fall plans the best interests of our students and our institution within the confines of whatever health regulations are likely to be in force will be paramount.

            Thinking further ahead past 2021, COVID-19 has provided all of us with much deeper insights into the efficacy of online learning. While CUE will in all likelihood continue to deliver most courses face-to-face, the long-term future may include more online or blended courses in areas where this makes sense.

Budget news:

In my last report on our budget for 2020-21, it was all sunshine and rainbows. COVID-19 has temporarily changed that outlook, having had an impact on our finances. Our Finance Department has calculated the cost of COVID-19, projecting that calculation forward to August. The outcome is that by the end of August CUE will have suffered an approximate $500,000 loss. This number may grow through the Fall semester. This calculation takes into account lost revenues caused by barely being able to use our campus, along with additional expenses in many areas required to enable us to operate under this new paradigm. It is a substantial amount, but there is currently no reason for concern. We are monitoring our finances closely and making adjustments where necessary to ensure that we can still hit our budget targets while at the same time continuing to deliver high quality education and services.

           To date we have managed to avoid the sorts of layoffs seen at other institutions, and continuing to do so will remain a very high priority. We have not suspended faculty hires required to address growing enrolment, but some failed searches have been helpful for our budget, and we have suspended hires of a number of support staff positions and are finding savings in other budget lines (for example, travel). To the greatest extent possible we need to preserve our community and structures because we intend to get back to normal operations at the earliest possible opportunity. It is in our favour that we have always been a lean organization. That said, we can only retain employees in positions where there is actual work to be done, and posting a budget deficit is not an option. So far, so good for the most part, but we will continue to monitor workloads in the coming months, with the preservation of our service to students through job retention being of high import.

Good news for international students.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has announced that for Fall 2020 International students can begin their classes online from outside of Canada in Fall 2020 and complete up to 50% of their program via distance learning if they cannot travel to Canada sooner. Time will not be deducted from the length of a future post-graduation work permit for studies completed outside of Canada, up to December 31, 2020. This comes as the result of some strong advocacy work from Universities Canada.