Update on fall term at UM from President Benarroch
On track for full in-person operations for Winter Term, President says
The University of Manitoba is an in-person work and learning community. Being able to safely ramp-up in-person activity is welcome news for many, and I continue to hear from faculty, staff and students who are eager to be back together – collaborating and connecting – on UM’s beautiful campuses. Some of you have also told me that you remain uncertain, and have concerns about your health and well-being. I hear you, and I want to update you today on the work that’s taking place to support a safe return to campus.
The University of Manitoba’s Senate and Board of Governors continue to support a measured approach, ensuring that health and safety guide all of our decision making. As we see vaccine rates increase and case counts drop, we are on track for a phased return to in-person work and learning that respects the needs of our diverse community.
Safely resuming some in-person classes and labs this fall
We remain committed to our plans for Fall Term operations. Deans, department heads, faculty and staff have been working hard to confirm what courses will be offered in the fall, and what additional academic activity can safely take place in-person.
- 430 classes with a registration of 20 students or less will proceed with in-person instruction;
- 360 in-person labs will resume, limited to no more than 25, or to the COVID room-capacity limit, whichever is smaller; and
- large classes will continue with remote delivery.
This reduced capacity ensures we maintain two meters of distance between individuals, adhering to the public health regulations in place at the time of planning. Students have been able to view the academic calendar since mid-May, and registration for most courses begins shortly or has already begun.
Planning for some in-person activities and programming
If public health regulations allow, we plan to offer some in-person programming such as essential health and wellness supports, cultural connections, facility tours, learning and skills sessions, and running in-person student and faculty support systems. Deans and managers will receive more information in the coming weeks to help them plan for these increases in activity. The level of activity will be guided by public health orders and with the health and safety of our community top of mind.
Faculty and staff returning to campus
I have begun working on campus more regularly, and will be on campus consistently this fall. All of Provosts council and other senior leadership will be back working on campus as of September 1 as well. The timeline for employees looks like this:
- 40 per cent back on campus currently;
- 60 per cent in September;
- 70 per cent back by mid-October;
- 80 per cent on campus by mid-November; and
- by January 2022, all employees can come back.
This phased approach allows time to assess and ensure we resume in-person activity as safely as possible while supporting our goal of a full return in January.
We understand that you may have questions. In the coming weeks, you will see regular updates posted to the intranet and UM Today. Department heads and directors will develop plans for each unit and your supervisor will be in touch with you to discuss how these plans affect you specifically.
Flexible work guidelines
We recognize that there may be some cases where it is ideal for an employee to continue to do some work remotely or to have a flexible work arrangement. As we all adjust to the new normal, the University of Manitoba is developing flexible work guidelines and also plans to conduct a remote work pilot. We look forward to continuing to consult with our community and expect to share completed guidelines in early 2022.
Manitoba and university context
I understand universities in other provinces are opening more fully this fall. As Manitoba’s university, we must make our decisions within the context of Manitoba’s health situation. Manitoba’s third wave came later. Our ICUs are still critically stressed. Restrictions have only just begun to lessen, and as much as we want to return to normal, we have chosen to take a more measured approach.
We should also respect that, at full operations, UM is like a small city. When we bring all students, staff and faculty back, we are mixing people from across the province and globe together, and then having them go back out into the community. With large classes, there is no reasonable way to have our students—studying in multiple buildings and taking different classes—grouped in cohorts. It is prudent to gradually move toward this level of activity, instead of going back to 100 per cent all at once.
The exciting news is that our phased reopening plan is aligning well with Manitoba’s improving situation and trajectory. We will see activity increase throughout the Fall Term and we appear to be on track for a full return to our campuses by Winter Term 2022, so long as public health advice allows.
I am hopeful and grateful as we look forward. I took on this role in the middle of the pandemic, and it will be true joy to experience the energy and inspiration that emanates throughout our dynamic community when we are together.
Please continue to follow health orders and get vaccinated if you are able. That is the best way to ensure we can safely continue to resume in-person activity. I appreciated the opportunity to support the vaccine effort as part of the Take Your Seat campaign.
Thank you again for all your patience, hard work, and constant adapting.