Dear Acadia Colleagues,
Thank you for your patience as Acadia continues to study options for the start of the fall term. I hope you are all keeping well and healthy as we continue to work under these extraordinary conditions. I understand that you are keen to know what approach Acadia will take and assure you we will make a formal announcement soon. In the interim, I hope an indication of our preferred path forward will give you some context as you undertake your planning for the start of the new academic year.
In keeping with the anticipated next phase of pandemic containment in Nova Scotia and a phased re-opening of the province, Acadia’s Fall 2020 Planning Task Force has reviewed a number of scenarios ranging from ‘business as usual’ to a wholly ‘virtual’ campus. To preserve as many elements of the Acadia experience as possible while taking steps to ensure the health and safety of students and employees, the Task Force has recommended a blended, or hybrid approach to teaching and learning for September combining in-person and online delivery. This recommendation has been endorsed by the Board of Governor’s COVID-19 Response Committee, and we are now proceeding with that as our preferred approach for the fall term. Our intention is to bring students back to campus under controlled public health and safety conditions, provide alternative delivery mechanisms for those who are unable to attend the campus in person, and provide a mix of in-person and online options for all students. We would also allow students who cannot or choose not to attend in person the option of taking their fall term online.
Under this preferred option, which has been developed based on current public health information, many of Acadia’s classes, labs, and learning experiences would be held in-person employing social distancing and other safety measures, while others would be delivered using a mix of different delivery mechanisms or completely online. Some classes would be delivered both in-person and with a remote option to enable students who are unable to travel to campus to receive those courses online in September.
While a safe, blended on-campus approach remains our preferred approach, our plan incorporates preparedness to pivot to a fully online/virtual delivery of courses if necessary, and the Task Force is working with the Nova Scotia Public Health Office in developing contingency measures to address the possibility of an on-campus outbreak of COVID-19.
Under our preferred approach, residences and the dining hall would be open using directions and guidance provided by Nova Scotia Public Health Authorities. Updated safety measures will be implemented for the fall term and beyond with a central focus on the safety of students and staff.
The Planning Task Force, which includes representatives of AUFA, Senate and the ASU, has established a number of Planning Task Force Working Groups, including members of administration, faculty, staff, and students. The working groups are developing detailed recommendations for the following broad-scope operational areas:
Information from the operational working groups will be circulated by appropriate members of Acadia’s Executive Council or through Deans, Directors, and Managers. Our COVID-19 information website is being modified to capture information updates useful to employees and students. Employees are asked to direct questions to their immediate supervisor/director.
The Task Force has not been charged with assessing varsity or recreational athletics, and discussions are underway with partner organizations such as Atlantic University Sport (AUS) and U SPORTS pertaining to these matters. Updates on athletics will be provided as soon as possible.
For further information, a Town Hall meeting for the Acadia faculty and staff is being held on June 2 at 10 am, and I hope you will be able to participate to get the latest updates from the Planning Task Force and the status of our re-opening plans. As this additional work is undertaken, we will further develop the plan and take a more detailed proposal for consideration by the full Board of Governors in mid-June.
Beyond the efforts of the Planning Task Force, work is underway to analyse and evaluate the financial impacts the pandemic has had and will continue to have, on our university. An updated and revised budget will go before the Board of Governors later this month that will reflect these impacts and incorporate our preferred scenario for the academic year. As Acadia will not receive the usual spring and summer income that comes from on-campus courses and Destination Acadia events, our financial sustainability will depend on continued efforts to contain expenses in the immediate short term. We have curtailed all non-essential spending until further notice and launched a review of Acadia’s more complex structural costs. We are also in the process of engaging with employee groups to propose and discuss ways of mitigating costs as we plan to work through this crisis and get through the 2020-21 fiscal year. These factors and analyses will be incorporated into our budget proposals in the context of projected income and expenditure reductions. Further budget updates will be provided as the details are finalised.
I know that there will be a myriad of questions swirling through your minds, and I thank you for your continued perseverance as more robust answers are developed. Acadia remains committed to providing a high-quality learning experience for students and a safe place for professors, instructors, staff, researchers, and those engaging with the wider university community to continue their work. Just as we reacted with shared purpose in response to the onset of the pandemic, together, we will embrace new ways to launch the academic year in September in true Acadia style.
I cannot state forcefully enough that the health and safety of our community (employees, students, and the local community) will remain our highest priority. As our economy and society gradually re-open, there are risks that there will be outbreaks of the virus, and the possibility of a second wave remains likely. The same is the case for educational institutions like Acadia; however, we are much better prepared to address such a situation now than we were in March. While we cannot guarantee that no one will contract COVID-19, we are committed to the health and safety of the Acadia community. We will follow the advice and direction of the Nova Scotia Public Health Authority in determining how best to limit propagation of the virus on our campus, both to minimise the likelihood of an occurrence and to restrict and control an outbreak should one occur. Until a vaccine is developed and implemented on a nation-wide scale, we will include contingency plans to deal with an outbreak of the virus on campus, and we will be prepared to implement increased restrictions and, if necessary, shift to fully alternative delivery of classes for whatever period of time is necessary.
In lockstep with the provincial government’s re-opening plans, we are working on plans to re-open our campus over the summer. This will commence with a gradual return of employees to campus, starting with research activities and moving forward from there. In order to minimize risk to others, everyone on campus will have a responsibility to adhere to all health guidelines and should expect that these will be strictly enforced. There will be many challenges in organizing a safe and enriching environment for our students, faculty and staff as we plan for bringing employees back to campus over the summer and students in September. We will have expert advice along the way and comply with the guidelines and directives of the public health authorities at all times.
I will provide further updates as our planning is finalised, and we hope to be in a position to make a final announcement of those plans later in June. This will follow a detailed review of our plans with the Ministry of Labour and Advanced Education’s Division of Occupational Health and Safety and Nova Scotia’s Public Health Authority and continued engagement with the provincial government and our local and regional municipal governments.
Thank you for all you are doing for Acadia in response to this unique challenge. Stay well, stay healthy, and stay the course.