“Impossible to say” whether students will be on campus in fall, Deane tells Senate

Senate discusses COVID-19, postpones fall term break review

Deane discusses the challenges facing the University as they emerge from COVID-19 
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

While Principal Patrick Deane said it’s impossible to know whether students will be on campus in the fall, the University is preparing for a scenario in which they’re not.

Queen’s Senate gathered on April 14 via Zoom, an online video chat app, to discuss the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on University operations.

Deane and Mark Green, provost and vice-principal (Academic), detailed the University’s path forward amid Public Health Ontario’s (PHO) guidelines for preventing the virus' spread. It was Green’s first Senate meeting in his new position.

In his report to Senate, Principal Deane spoke about how “remarkably fluid” the transition to remote learning has been.

“I want to thank everyone for the contributions they’ve made to what is an extraordinary process—to finding solutions to a problem that is changing all the time,” Deane said.

He added that the University is fortunate because the number of COVID-19 cases has been controlled in Kingston. As of Monday, Kingston had recorded 56 total cases with zero current hospitalizations for COVID-19.

“The big issue now is what lies ahead of us: going into a crisis like this [pandemic] is challenging in itself, but there’s a whole different set of challenges that present themselves around coming out of it,” Deane said. “Not the least of those challenges is the question of predictability: what are we looking at in the foreseeable future? Do we anticipate a fall that looks rather like this? In which case, what are the ramifications of that for the way in which we offer programs, for residences?”

According to Deane, an optimistic scenario would be a return to something that “looked like normality” in the fall. However, he also said questions about activities in that period of time remain “very much theoretical at this stage.”

“[Soon] we’ll get a sense of what the likely point of emergence [from the pandemic] will be for our University and the community,” Deane said. “At the moment, it’s impossible to say [when] that is. So, whether students will be present on campus or not in the fall is impossible to say right now.”

In the case that fall term courses are offered online, the University is looking at a range of options, according to John Pierce, vice-provost (teaching and learning).

One option is extending the 2020-21 academic year into a third term next summer and offering a “different, wider” range of courses in the Summer term.

“[I]f we go into a Fall term with courses online, we would probably be asking students to reduce the number of courses [they take] because it would be difficult to carry a full load online,” Pierce said.

They’re also working with faculty to determine whether course syllabi will be adapted to reduce the number of formal exams that would accompany remote learning. 

When asked about when the University community will hear more about the financial repercussions associated with COVID-19, Green said information might be shared more widely after these scenarios are discussed with the Board of Trustees in May.

“We have been looking at a couple of scenarios,” Green said. “One of the areas is a decrease in the number of international students and how that may affect first-year enrollment and potentially upper-year enrollment.”

Fall term break review

While Senate unanimously passed a motion regarding fall term break at a meeting on Jan. 28, the Senate Committee on Academic Procedures (SCAP) announced changes to that motion due to COVID-19. 

As part of the motion, SCAP was required to review the recommendations provided by the University’s Fall Term Break Task Force, as approved by Senate in Feb. 2017. The review was scheduled to begin in spring of 2020, allowing for SCAP to provide Senate with a recommendation for structuring the fall term break in the subsequent years by Feb. 28, 2021.

SCAP had developed a plan for conducting the review, but now feels it’s no longer relevant because of the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty regarding the fall term of 2020. 

The review has been postponed until students can be sufficiently consulted.

Senate Orientation Activities Review Board (SOARB) report

When Senators raised concerns around  certain Orientation Week events being anxiety-inducing for students, the SOARB report was sent back to have a review of the recommendation to ban Standards Exams, or falsified academic tests for Orientation purposes, at a Senate meeting on Feb. 25.

The SOARB consulted with experts in learning, wellness, and student behaviour on Queen’s campus to confirm that those falsified tests are ineffective academic tools and can be harmful to some students.

The final consultation occurred with the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science (FEAS) undergraduate orientation team, as their orientation schedule includes a Standards Exam.

The review concluded that academically-focused events like Standards Exams that are deceiving, provide no academic value, or are unnecessarily anxiety-inducing no longer have a place in undergraduate Orientation at Queen’s. 

Steve Boyd

Prior to discussing topics on the agenda, Senator Diane Beauchemin asked about the Senate’s role in addressing the repercussions of firing cross country and track coach Steve Boyd

“[T]he effects on the students [are] very significant—not looking at the decision itself, but the repercussions of that decision falls under the Senate’s jurisdiction,” Beauchemin said.

Deane said there’s “no way” the concerns students wish to raise could be separated from the question of the decision to terminate Boyd’s contract with the University. 

“Coach Boyd has given notice of bringing a legal action against the University, which makes it all the more important that no aspect of that decision be discussed in a public way or in a governance body such as this,” Deane added. “The students are encouraged to seek, and they will receive, all the support they need as a result of the situation in which they find themselves.” 

Beauchemin noted that one action students are specifically asking for is a review of Queen’s Athletics, which Vice-Principal Green said the University would consider.  

 “We’re always interested in how our academic and other units can best operate, so we always welcome a review of policies and procedures. It does make imminent sense that we would consider a review of Athletics,” Green said.

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