Written by: Jaymee Salisi, News Writer

Following the BC provincial government’s reopening plan, SFU announced its plan to return to campus by Fall 2021. 

The university aims to bring back in-person classes for 70–80% of courses. They also created a four-stage plan outlining broad guidelines for campus density and available services. While also encouraging students to get vaccinated, SFU said they will:

  • Ensure enhanced cleaning practices and safety standards remain in place across the university
  • Work with TransLink to ensure safe transit service to campuses
  • Reopen campus amenities including food services, the Bookstore, computer labs, recreation services, and library services
  • Increase student programs and activities 

The plans are based on BC’s vaccine rollout projections aiming for 70% of adults to be vaccinated with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by September 2021.

By then, SFU predicts public health orders will be altered and pandemic protocols will be reduced, which will allow in-person classes to resume.

The Peak reached out to various faculty for their thoughts. Director of public health programs Malcolm Steinberg said, “I am confident that a significant proportion of faculty, staff, students, and other persons on our campuses will be fully immunized by the Fall.

“We know that SFU will continue to follow public health guidelines and implement safety precautions recommended by the BC Centre for Disease Control, WorkSafeBC, the provincial health officer, and BC’s Restart plan.”

Steinberg said a key concern regarding in-person classes is the inability to effectively social distance on public transit. Further, Steinberg added SFU’s fourth phase of an 80–100% density level will be also challenging for social distancing precautions. 

“We will see a gradual return of faculty and staff to campus over the remaining summer semester with the likely expectation of approximately 80% presence on campus in the Fall. This should allow faculty and staff to make the adjustment to the return to campus,” Steinberg said.

Assistant professor of communication Sun-ha Hong said, “Of course, if we can return to campus safely, it’ll be fantastic. I know pandemic classes have been 50 flavours of hell for students.” 

Hong added it would be ideal to create a university environment that captures more than class content. 

However, he emphasised it depends on whether the return to campus would be safe, “We all hope that everyone can be vaccinated and things really are safe by September. But plans are not predictions, and there’s a long way to go before what we’re all hoping for September actually becomes reality.”

Steinberg added final directions about in-person classes will be made by the deans of each faculty. “Decision about which classes will resume in-person engagements will clearly depend on class sizes and the proportion of international students.”

According to Steinberg, SFU aims to center student experiences and concerns in the decision making process.

An undergraduate survey conducted from February to March 2021 showed a preference among 80% of students in maintaining some of flexibility with continued online learning. 

72% of students living outside the Lower Mainland expressed concern about returning to campus. They were mainly apprehensive about safety risks and travel restrictions.

The survey also showed a student preference for labs, tutorials, and experiential learning to be taught in-person.

Steinberg said instructors have expressed an inclination for remote teaching and hybrid approaches involving synchronous and asynchronous course content delivery. 

Hong explained that he has not been given more details regarding the plan from the university. “I don’t know yet for sure whether my own courses will be in-person or not, and what exact preparations need to be made.”

According to Hong, remote teaching has involved “untold hours of extra unpaid work for faculty.”

It is important to Hong that the university considers what returning to campus might look like for immunocompromised students, staff, and faculty. 

Steinberg said proof of vaccination will not be required so “it will be important to continue to encourage mask wearing in class situations where adequate distancing will not be possible.”

“We have to think through what it might look like for international students, with so many countries denied the same access to vaccines that US or Canada has had [ . . . ] We haven’t figured it out until we’ve figured it out for truly everyone,” Hong said.

Although the university has not yet developed official plans for potential COVID-19 exposures on campus, SFU members are expected to self-isolate for 14 days after exposure.

Steinberg said that on June 8, SFU launched a COVID-19 rapid screening pilot program eligible for students living on campus and varsity athletes to participate in. 

The program is a preventative measure which will “allow us to detect possible cases early on, prevent the spread and protect the safety of the SFU community.

Find out more about SFU’s plans to return to campus here.