Report: Governing Council - September 09, 2021

Via Virtual Meeting Room


MINUTES OF THE MEETING OF THE GOVERNING COUNCIL held on September 9, 2021 at 8:45 a.m. via virtual meeting. 

Brian D. Lawson (Chair), Meric S. Gertler, (President), Trevor Young, (Acting Vice-President and Provost), Harvey T. Botting, Vikram Sainadh Chadalawada, Andrew Chen, Janet Cloud, Ann Curran, Susan Froom, K. Sonu Gaind, Vina Goghari, Sandra Hanington, Paul Huyer, Sarosh Jamal, Amin Kamaleddin, Evan Kanter, Anna Kennedy, Sameer Lal, Ernest W.N. Lam, Mark Lautens, Kikelomo Lawal,   Jan K. Mahrt-Smith, Rajiv Mathur, Douglas E. McDougall, Joanne J. McNamara, Mozynah Nofal, Salvatore M. Spadafora; Ryan Teschner, Wisdom J. Tettey, Nhung Tuyet Tran, Veronica Marie Wadey, Grace Ann Westcott, Kenneth Javier Williams, Geeta Yadav, Lara K. Zink 
Sheree Drummond (Secretary of the Governing Council)  
Rose M. Patten (Chancellor), Janet L. Ecker (Vice-Chair), David N. Bowden, Teodora Dechev, Stark Draper, Maureen Harquail, Joan M. Johnston, Shashi Kant, Ron Levi, Karen Ng, Andrew Padmos, Danielle Skipp, Vishar Yaghoubian, Samra Zafar.
In Attendance:  
David Palmer (Vice-President, University Advancement),  Kelly Hannah-Moffat (Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity and Culture), Joseph Wong (Vice-President, International), Nadina Jamison (Chief Strategy Officer, Office of the President), Bryn MacPherson (Assistant Vice-President, Office of the President and Chief of Protocol), Nora Gillespie (Senior Legal Counsel), Archana Sridhar (Assistant Provost), Tony Gray (Director, Strategic Research, Office of the President), Melinda Scott (Director, Office of the Vice-Provost, Students and Student Policy Advisor), Susan Mazza (Special Projects Officer, Office of the President)   
Sandy Welsh (Vice-Provost, Students)
Susan McCahan (Vice-Provost, Academic Programs and Innovations in Undergraduate Education)
Alexa Ballis (President, University of Toronto Students’ Union)
Terezia Zoric (President, University of Toronto Faculty Association)
Anwar Kazimi, Kristi Gourlay, Samantha Frost

  1. Chair’s Remarks

    The Chair welcomed members and guests to the first meeting of the Governing Council for the 2021-22 governance year and noted that this was his first meeting as Chair. He advised members that two speaking requests had been received. Ms Alexa Ballis, President, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), and Professor Terezia Zoric, President, University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA), had asked to address the Governing Council about the University’s return to campus plan. The requests had been granted.
  2. Report of the President

    Report of the President

    The President echoed the Chair’s welcome to the new academic year. He reported that the University of Toronto had recently co-hosted the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit (September 1-3rd) which had featured no fewer than ten speakers from U of T. He noted that the University had maintained its ranking of 18th in the world for a third consecutive year, was 8th amongst the world’s public universities, and was now the 2nd ranked public university in North America (after only UC Berkeley). He went on to comment on the ongoing pandemic and the plans that were underway for the fall term, expressing his gratitude for the extraordinary effort of many across the University under demanding and difficult circumstances.

    At the invitation of the President, Acting Provost, Professor Trevor Young, provided a brief update on the University’s ongoing response to the pandemic. He noted that on August 31st, the Ministry of Colleges and Universities had announced that Ontario universities could deliver in-person teaching without physical distancing and capacity limits provided they had a vaccine mandate, indoor masking, and other public health measures in place. Physical distancing and capacity limits remained in place for non-instructional spaces along with all other requirements of Step 3 of the government’s reopening plan. Professor Young reported that decisions on how best to incorporate this late-breaking provincial guidance were being made at the campus and divisional levels so that the approach that best served their needs could be adopted. This meant that rates of in-person activity would vary across campuses and divisions this fall and details about updated plans were being communicated as quickly as possible. He noted that the Office of the Provost was also sending weekly community-wide messages to share the latest details regarding health and safety requirements and how the University was implementing them. He reported that many students had conveyed the importance of being physically present on campus, both for their academics and mental well-being, and that faculty and staff were working hard to ensure that students would find a safe and welcoming environment when they returned. He noted that among the many initiatives being taken in preparation for a return to campus, a new electronic queuing system to reduce crowding had been made available to divisions and units and that online resources were available to help students find comfortable spaces to study, eat, work, and relax between classes.

    In response to questions raised by governors, including those received prior to the meeting, Professor Young reported the following:
  • Throughout the pandemic COVID cases in the community/campuses had been reported twice a week on the UTogether website and would continue to be reported.
  • Everyone coming to campus must be vaccinated and must upload proof of vaccination to UCheck, and those without UCheck access would be able to use the Ontario government vaccine passport to verify vaccine status when it was available.
  • Individuals could request vaccine exemption on medical grounds or on the basis of religion or creed, but it was anticipated that such exemptions would be rare.
  • Rapid screening would be mandatory twice a week for those with an approved vaccination exemption or who were in the process of getting fully vaccinated.
  • The rapid screening process had launched on September 1st after a successful pilot phase, and participants were already picking up free kits and submitting test results.
  • Pop-up vaccination clinics would be running during the fall on all campuses.
  • In courses where the mask requirement could impede instruction, instructors, with divisional approval, would be able to remove their masks for pedagogical reasons, and would receive guidance from Environmental Health & Safety about ensuring that appropriate safety measures were in place.

    He thanked every member of the community for their hard work, patience, and dedication to the well-being of students and the mission of the University.

    The Chair invited Ms Ballis to address the Council. Ms Ballis made reference to the August 14th open letter from the UTSU which had expressed concerns about the University’s return to campus plan. She highlighted the lack of available online course options and course recordings which she said were needed to accommodate international students who might not arrive on campus in time, students who might become ill or have a family member who is ill, and commuter students who felt at risk traveling to campus. She also expressed concerns about class sizes and the lack of social distancing measures in place. Ms Ballis requested that the University do the following:
  • Extend the two-week grace period in which all courses would be offered on-line.
  • Encourage all faculties to require recordings of all classes to be uploaded.
  • Rethink classroom capacity limits.

    The Chair then asked Professor Zoric to address the Council. Professor Zoric expressed the concerns of faculty members about the University’s reopening plan and asked for a more engaged response from senior decision makers to these concerns. She opined that minimum standards for safe return had yet to be met and requested that the University:
  • Reduce indoor capacity in keeping with the most recent guidance of the Ontario Science Table.
  • Maintain physical distancing limits at large gatherings including classrooms.
  • Clearly communicate the specific, measurable, and verified steps that were being taken to keep the community safe.
  • Meet with student, staff, and faculty association representatives at one table and at one time.
  • Broaden the approach to accommodations for staff and students to include those with children under twelve or who were living with or caring for those at greater risk.

    President Gertler thanked the speakers and indicated that the University was continuing to monitor the pandemic situation as circumstances evolved and would adjust its response as necessary in keeping with the evidence and advice from experts who had been consulted throughout the pandemic. He confirmed that the University would continue to work in a collaborative way with all partners to meet the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic.

    Members had further questions and comments about the following:
  • In-person classes were starting on September 24th without physical distancing requirements, yet the University was not requiring full vaccination until October 15th.
  • That the conditions applying to classrooms did not yet extend to research labs.
  • Whether masks would be provided to new students and members of the community given the updated mask policy.

    In response to questions and comments from members and raised by the speakers, Professor Young, Professor Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost, Students, and Professor Susan McCahan, Vice-Provost, Academic Programs and Innovations in Undergraduate Education, noted the following:
  • Making in-person learning as accessible as possible was important and in response to student feedback.
  • Faculties were in a good position to determine what amount of on-line versus in-person to offer for the content being taught in their courses. 55% of fall courses would have in-person sections, and 45% would be online for the whole term.
  • While the requirement of having received two doses of the vaccine to access campus was not required until October 15th, students starting in-person classes on September 24th would be protected by the other safety measures in place including the twice weekly rapid screening. 
  • The University would continue to monitor the situation throughout the term and ensure that decisions were in keeping with the latest public health guidance.
  • Research labs continued to run under provincial Step 3 requirements, but discussions were underway for how lab capacity might be increased.
  • The University would not be issuing additional masks to the community now that they were readily available.
  1. Minutes of the Previous Meeting of the Governing Council

    The minutes of the June 24, 2021 meeting were approved.'
  2. Reports for Information 

    Members received the following reports for information:
    1. Report on Approvals Under Summer Executive Authority

      The Chair informed members that, on June 24, 2021, the Council had approved the annual delegation of authority to the President to act on behalf of the Governing Council during the summer months. The Chair advised members that the Report on Approvals under Summer Executive Authority outlined the actions taken under this authority. 
    2. Report Number 524 of the Executive Committee (June 24, 2021)

      There were no questions from members regarding these reports.
  3. Date of the Next Meeting – Thursday, October 28, 2021 at 4:30 p.m.

    The Chair advised members that the next Governing Council meeting was scheduled for Thursday, October 28, 2021 at 4:30 p.m. and that it would be held virtually.
  4. Question Period 

    There were no questions from members.
  5. Other Business

    There were no items of other business.

The meeting adjourned at 9:38 a.m.

September 23, 2021