Likelihood of in-person learning “extremely slim,” Deane tells faculty & staff

At virtual town hall, Deane addresses concerns about upcoming semester

Deane hosted an online town hall on May 13 to answer questions from more than 1,300 faculty and staff about the future of the University’s operations.
Photo: 

Principal Patrick Deane said it’s impossible to know with certainty what the fall term will look like, though he added that most programs will likely be conducted remotely. 

Deane hosted an online town hall on May 13 to answer questions from more than 1,300 faculty and staff about the future of the University’s operations, as well as its ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other members of the University’s administration speaking on the call included Mark Green, provost and vice-principal (Academic), Donna Janiec, vice-principal (Finance and Administration), Kim Woodhouse, vice-principal (Research), and David Walker, special advisor on COVID-19.

“[W]e’re looking forward to the coming year and to what the fall will bring, and it’s a very challenging time,” Deane said. “I acknowledge our whole community for being remarkably resilient and patient.”

He said it’s impossible to know what the future will bring, including to what degree the pandemic will have developed by September, what the province and public health authorities will advise, what social distancing measures will look like, and what the capacity of Queen’s buildings and facilities will be.

However, Deane said now is the time when decisions for the fall term must be made. Several other post-secondary institutions have made announcements regarding the structure of their fall term in the past few days.

Deane said that at Queen’s, while some fall courses may have on-campus, in-person components, it’s “unlikely [a] major part of [the University’s] operations could be offered in person.”

“If you think about the physical distancing guidelines, our capacity to accommodate all the students is severely limited,” Deane said. “[E]ven in the best of all scenarios, the likelihood of all students being able to return to campus is extremely slim.”

He said the University is preparing “overwhelmingly” for remote delivery in the fall and that he anticipates a hybrid approach to course delivery, with the majority of work being conducted online.

Deane described a phased-in return to operations with modest numbers of students, staff and faculty returning to campus in a “slow, steady and incremental” way. Over time, he said there should be a steady growth in the number of students who are able to return to campus and the amount of course content delivered in person. 

Deane did not provide a date when the University will have made a firm decision regarding fall term delivery. He said Queen’s is still exploring a wide range of scenarios.

Deane also said decisions for the fall term will likely vary by faculty. He said some programs, like professional health programs in the Faculty of Health Sciences, graduate and research-based programs, and a portion of programs in the Faculty of Law will “in all likelihood” be offered in-person.

He acknowledged the impact these changes will have on the Queen’s community at large. 

“Ours is an institution that lays part of its claim to excellence on its being a residential institution, on the physical experiences students have here, on the interactions they have,” he said. “[That’s] important to keep in mind as we look towards the fall, even if the public health guidelines will not permit us to live that reality.”

Public health

In response to one individual who asked what the eventual return to campus will look like from a public health perspective, Walker said the community will be living with COVID-19 for a long time— likely two or three years —regardless of the development of a vaccine.

At the time of publication, Kingston has no active COVID-19 cases, with 61 resolved cases and zero deaths. However, Walker said that as students eventually return to campus, there will be more outbreaks. 

In this case, the University will increase prevention efforts, work to manage new cases, and monitor the possible overlap of an influenza outbreak with a new wave of COVID-19. 

“The way in which we identify cases and manage outbreaks will be the degree to which we will be successful in protecting ourselves,” Walker said. “I foresee that the future […] will be the usual mixture of hygiene, screening and physical distancing, and probably masks.”

In collaboration with Kingston, Frontenac, and Lennox & Addington Public Health, the University has also committed to establishing COVID-19 testing facilities on campus and undertaking a mass influenza immunization program.

According to Walker, the impact of a possible COVID-19 outbreak among students on the larger Kingston community is also being monitored.

“We will have cases. We will manage those folks who get sick,” he said.

Residence

Deane said a group of individuals are exploring a “number of different scenarios” with the Division of Student Affairs (DSA) about what residences will look like in the fall term. 

“The residences in their normal operation would be difficult to maintain given the public health physical distancing guidelines,” he said. 

One scenario, for example, would exclusively open residences with private bathrooms. This would decrease residence capacity to about 1200 students, according to Deane.

He said this issue is related to the possibility of on-campus programming, and that the University will consider how many students enrolled in programs will pursue in-person delivery and require the use of residence. 

A different decision will need to be made if more programs transition to in-person delivery in the winter term.

Employment insecurity

Janiec addressed employment concerns, specifically after a handful of Queen’s employees were laid off because the services they provide on campus cannot be conducted from home. She said these changes are seen as temporary.

“We expect to have all of our employees back on campus as soon as they possibly can,” she said. 

She also said that Queen’s doesn’t qualify for the federal government’s Emergency Wage Subsidy Program because of its status as a public institution. However, she said Queen’s employees who have lost their jobs are eligible for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or other federal financial aid programs. 

Deane also spoke about how, in the event of return to work, the University would address the concerns of staff and faculty worried about their personal health or the absence of child care should elementary schools remain closed.

“The strength of our University depends on the health, happiness, and prosperity of everybody in it,” he said. 

He said some individuals will continue to work from home during the return to work process, as the physical distancing guidelines will restrict the number of employees permitted to work in campus buildings. 

“I hope fervently that in the way we think about the shape of work, and the place of work, and the rhythms and the habits of work, we can come out of this with a new flexibility,” Deane added. “The old model of a singular shape to the working day, I think, has long passed.”

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.