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Louis Pasteur Private, usually one of the busiest streets on campus has been mostly deserted this year. Image: Bridget Coady/Fulcrum

As plans for return to campus become more concrete, UOSU is preparing to advocate for students in the process

Most Ontario universities have returned from their reading week breaks with different COVID-19 restriction levels than when they left. With the exception of those in grey zones, many campuses will have opportunities to open more fully to their students and staff. 

The University of Ottawa, for the moment, is sticking to plans first announced at the January Board of Governors meeting to reopen campus at 30-50 per cent capacity for the fall 2021 semester. 

This was reiterated by Jill Scott, the U of O’s provost and vice-president, academic affairs on Feb. 23 in an email to the student population.

“Our ambitious plan is to provide a full, enriching on-campus experience at uOttawa for the fall 2021 term, with 30-50% of our courses delivered in person or using hybrid formats and the remainder offered online.”

“We will send you more details before course enrolment later this spring.”

In the meantime, the U of O campus remains for the most part closed. The university has already announced the 2021 spring and summer semester will take place virtually and in spite of new allowances, has yet to announce plans to open any eateries on campus aside from the dining hall which is take-out only.

In contrast, other institutions in similar situations such as Western University have reopened a number of eateries on campus. The city of London is currently located in a red zone, but the provincial government has announced that it will move the region to orange on March 1.

Unlike London, Ottawa has already moved from a red to an orange zone, allowing for indoor dining to resume at reduced capacities. 

Just like the U of O, Western has a tentative plan to “return to face-to-face instruction and more of the on-campus experiences we all miss” for the university’s Fall 2021 semester. The plan was released by President Alan Shepard in a statement to the school’s community on Feb. 4. 

At the U of O, however, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) has reopened its offices to students’ albeit at 25 per cent capacity. Western’s undergraduate student union, the University Students’ Council, has yet to reopen its offices.

“UOSU offices are now open, they opened as of Monday the 22nd [of February],” UOSU President, Babacar Faye said in an interview with the Fulcrum. 

“There’s always one executive in the office, we just have a 25 per cent limit on capacity and have safety protocols in place.”

The protocols Faye referred to include glass shields at the office’s reception desk as well as hand sanitizer dispensers and masks should a student not have one. 

Advocating for student priorities

Faye says that he and UOSU have plans to advocate for students in the reopening process at an upcoming meeting with the university.

“What we are going to be advocating for [on behalf of] students on campus is two fold,” shared Faye.

“First thing I want to assure is that as we return to campus, the university does not neglect the online experience.” 

Faye outlined the need for the university’s work to be accessible within the online infrastructure of the university experience and highlighted the need for online courses to reflect the same quality as in-person learning. 

“The next aspect would be health and safety,” said Faye. 

“We are sure this is a priority for students, and we also want to assure that [campus] is accessible for students who have to attend courses in person but might be more at risk of infection.”

Faye listed a number of questions for the university’s reopening plan in fall of 2021 — including whether or not vaccinations will be required for those returning to campus and what are the plans in the eventuality of an outbreak.

“We have an idea of the plan should there be a case on campus, but what might happen should there be an outbreak?” said Faye.

He also touched on the impact the 2020-21 academic year has had on students and how it needs to be taken into consideration going forward. 

“It’s been a very difficult year on different fronts,” he continued. “On the financial front for some students or on the mental health front, or the academic front. 

“We really need to account for how that will affect students going into the next year.”

At the same time, Faye still applauds the COVID-19 health and safety measures currently put in place by the U of O.

“I think that they have been effective at limiting infection and outbreaks of COVID-19,” said Faye of the university when asked to evaluate their response to the pandemic thus far.

Still, he hopes for more improvement as talks of reopening the campus come to fruition.

He also believes the university taking full responsibility to stop the spread of COVID-19 on campus could do alot to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty for students who are thinking about coming back to campus. 

“I think that going forward the university can be more transparent, and just communicate to students.”