July 14, 2021

What will the return to campus look and feel like?

Many members of the SFU community have been working to ensure a smooth return to (mostly) in-person instruction in Fall 2021.

After more than a year of remote instruction, the return to (mostly) in-person instruction in September 2021 is an exciting prospect for instructors and students—but it’s also another big transition for the university community to navigate. We asked Elizabeth Elle, associate VP, learning & teaching, to respond to our questions about what to expect inside and outside the classroom. Her answers offer a picture of what those first days back will look and feel like.

CEE: Will the campuses be at full capacity in September?

Elizabeth Elle: We are anticipating being in Stage 4 of our Campus Recovery Plan by then, which means we will be at 80–100 per cent capacity if all continues to go well. Our courses are aiming for 70–80 per cent in person. So we do expect a vibrant community on each of our campuses, but perhaps not as busy as a typical Fall term. I’ve been on the Burnaby campus regularly in recent months, and it’s exciting to see people coming back and to enjoy all the new spaces where construction was completed while we were away.

CEE: Will all buildings be open? Will the Library and other service areas be operating normally?

EE: Right now, because we’re in Stage 3 of our Campus Recovery Plan, building access remains limited and is restricted to current students, staff, faculty and approved visitors supporting core activities. However, the Library is re-opening in August, and we anticipate a return to normal operations and access as we get close to being in Stage 4.

CEE: Will faculty, staff and students be required to wear masks in lectures, labs and meetings? What about social distancing?

EE: SFU will continue to prioritize the safety of our faculty, students and staff, and we also follow provincial health orders. As I write this in July, masks are recommended but not required in all indoor common areas, and physical distancing is not required. By September, if we stay on track to being in Stage 4, masks could be a personal choice. I expect, though, that some people will still feel more comfortable wearing masks and keeping some physical distance when possible, and we should respect those personal decisions.  

CEE: Has the university made changes to classrooms and labs to make them safer?

EE: You may have seen announcements recently about the inspection of ventilation systems across our campuses this summer to ensure that they meet standards. We are finding really high compliance with those systems, and if we find challenges in any building or office areas, we are addressing them by, for example, fixing heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) issues, reducing occupancy or closing the space. We expect that we will continue to have hand sanitizer stations around campus, and the biggest thing, I think, will be socializing the idea of not coming to our campuses when sick, for all of us.

CEE: Won’t staying home be an issue for students who are worried about their grades?

EE: Our faculty have come up with innovative ideas to allow for flexibility in how they assess students to allow for the occasional absence, such as giving multiple similar assignments and having the option to drop one, recalculating the final grade based only on completed work if a major assignment is missed, and setting flexible due dates.

The public health officer has said we should continue to not require our students to provide medical notes for minor illnesses. I think it’s an important culture shift, not just for students but for all of us—we are all really passionate about our work, but everyone’s physical and mental health is also important. If people aren’t well, they should feel comfortable making the choice to stay home and focus on getting better. To that end, if faculty can build a small amount of flexibility into their syllabus—for example, plan for a day or two of disruption with the option of using the time to catch up or cover “bonus” material—it will be easier for them to stay away from our campuses if they have a minor illness. I have been working with my own staff to encourage them to put their health first, too. We can all contribute to this new culture.

CEE: What else is happening to support the return?

EE: We’ve done a thorough audit of the recording capabilities in our lecture halls on all campuses, and have been increasing capacity in a number of rooms.

I know Student Services is considering ways to gradually bring back social activities on our campuses, and I know many people are excited about the return of the fire pits. There is also a Community Vibrancy Plan underway for the Burnaby campus, which will add additional tables, couches and even pianos! I understand there will also be some tents, as we know the weather gets interesting around here by mid-October. The idea is to have lots of places where we can gather, including many more outdoor spaces, which we know have been a safer way to congregate during the pandemic.

CEE: Where can we get more information about the return to campus?

EE: The best place is the Return to Campus web pages!