The recent opening of most public schools across the city has prompted the university to assess how it will open its own spaces on campus.
The University of Saskatchewan is currently in Stage 3 of its reopening plan. This stage includes opening library services, allowing activities from Stage 2 and making office spaces available through approval. The university’s approach to the reopening plan is currently evolving as they monitor how matters unfold with schools that are back to in-person delivery.
The amount of people currently allowed on campus is still limited to staff, faculty, and students if they have permission. Dr. Darcy Marciniuk, the chair of the university’s Pandemic Response and Recovery Team (PRT), anticipates that the university will remain in this stage for now because progress is heavily dependent on local and national updates regarding COVID-19.
“There’s been a lot of sacrifice, a lot of resilience for some individuals and peoples to allow others to come on campus in support of the teaching and learning activity or the research,” Marciniuk said.
Patti McDougall, vice-provost of teaching, learning and student experience, says that one of the university’s main guiding principles is serving the diverse needs of students in a safe manner. She says these needs range from curbside pickup offered by the pharmacy to a seat-booking system for the library that is being developed.
However, the challenge in moving in time with the plan lies in ensuring that everyone exhibits the same understanding of protocols put out by public health officials, says McDougall.
“When I’m called on to talk with an off-campus stakeholder who has a very different belief about the perception of risk, I find that that has been quite challenging,” McDougall said. “That’s quite challenging, when people aren’t reading the science and when their perceptions of risk are so very different.”
In terms of what has helped the university stay on track, McDougall says that focusing on students and academics are key guiding points. Marciniuk says that as the university gradually opens up with these priorities in mind, some services provided, such as enhanced technologies for research, have been far more useful than originally anticipated.
McDougall says that the pandemic has also spurred reconsideration of working or learning remotely, and how additional spaces can be created on campus, since many staff and students might not want to come back to the campus.
“That automatically changes how we allocate space… Do we build large lecture halls, additional large lecture halls? These are the questions we’re asking ourselves even now, as we think through some of the other capital projects that we have going on on campus,” McDougall said.
Moving forward, the university aims to stick to their plan but also to prepare for any unexpected interruptions.
“If the conditions allow us to transition to a higher stage, then we certainly will be prepared for that. Similarly, if the pandemic all of a sudden really picks up steam, we could move back,” Marciniuk said. “In a way we are reactive, but there’s some things we can do to mitigate that uncertainty.”
Despite the challenges that the next stages present, McDougall is optimistic about students’ eventual return to campus.
“I think that there are a large number of people who are going to be joyful,” McDougall said.
“They miss being together so I think there’s going to be that sense of coming back to something that people know and love across the board.”
Fiza Baloch | Staff Writer
Graphic: Anh Phan | Design Editor