McGill town hall details plans for the Fall 2021 semester

McGill hosted a virtual town hall on April 20 to update students and staff about preparations for the Fall 2021 in-person semester. Following an official announcement on Feb. 23 stating that students will return to in-person learning, the recent town hall presented an updated overview of the plan to return to campus, which included new details about safety protocols and academic expectations. 

Deputy Provost (Student Life & Learning) Fabrice Labeau explained that the administration is preparing for five scenarios of operation next semester. In the worst case scenario, if Montreal were to remain in a red zone, McGill would continue to operate at its current level, with minimal on-campus activity. In the best case scenario, McGill would resume all of its activities at close to pre-pandemic levels. Labeau predicted that operations will likely be somewhere between these two scenarios.

“The realistic scenario we are looking at is relying on the assumption that we will live in a world where most people are vaccinated,” Labeau said. “The Quebec government has said that their goal is to have a first dose for everyone by June 24. The Canadian-level goal is to have everybody vaccinated by September [….] We are looking at a level of protection in the community in general that is going to be pretty high.” 

Labeau said that most lectures with fewer than 150 people will be held in person. Additionally, midterm and final exams may take place in person regardless of whether or not the class takes place on campus. Associate Provost (Teaching & Academic Programs) Christopher Buddle noted that all students are expected to be in Montreal in the Fall 2021 semester to take their assessments on campus. 

“There is definitely an expectation that students will have to be available in Montreal,” Buddle said. “Do not forget that professors will still be able to record lectures [….] We are looking at a blended environment.”

Buddle explained that the administration is prioritizing academic activity ahead of extra-curricular operations and events. 

“[Academic programs] are the critical mission of the university […] and research activities as well,” Buddle said. “We understand the interest of many of our students beyond academics, […] but it’s really a matter of first prioritizing the planning of our academics [….] It’s just too early to make a specific prediction around that.” 

According to Labeau, the resumption of on-campus activities will involve heightened security protocols within campus buildings.

“In [terms of] physical security […], we are looking at a case where the buildings will be unlocked, but only a few of them,” Labeau said. “It also means that there will be enhanced COVID-19 protocols [so] we can check that people who are within the building indeed have business within the building. There [will be] be mask dispensers.” 

McGill also plans to implement a bursary program to compensate international students for the expenses incurred due to the federally mandated three-day hotel quarantine. Labeau encouraged international students to apply for their visas as soon as possible.

“We are in discussion with Immigration Canada to try and tighten the duration of the process, so we are confident that visa delays should not be a major hurdle,” Labeau said.

Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President of University Affairs Brooklyn Frizzle felt that despite McGill’s extensive planning, many uncertainties remain. 

“While many students are excited to return to in-person learning, many are fearful of being forced back into a COVID-19 red zone,” Frizzle said. “Although I am quite confident that McGill has gone above and beyond in preparing for the Fall semester, [as] their protocols are exceedingly detailed and all-encompassing, some variables are beyond their control. As we have seen over the past few months, having extensive protocols does not eliminate the risk of community transmission.”

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