Q&A recap: DVC’s Spring Town Hall, May 2020

Q&A recap: DVC’s Spring Town Hall, May 2020

On Thursday, May 14th the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal held the annual spring Town Hall where updates were shared on how our university community is managing new ways of doing things and adapting to the current reality and planning for the future.

A lively Q&A session followed the updates and the following written recap of the Q&A has been prepared. Although many of the questions were answered live time did not allow for every question to be answered and some responses were gathered following the Town Hall. The questions have been grouped by theme (Students, Safety and Operations and Human Resources).

Minor edits have been made to those that were addressed live for the sake of clarity and brevity.

A full recording of the DVC Town Hall can be found here.


Theme: Students

Is there a mechanism for students to provide feedback or express their concerns and/or share their positive stories with the university in regard to their experiences during the W19T2 term?

Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Provost and Vice-President Academic: They can definitely be directed to me at ananya.mukherjee@ubc.ca


Can students expect a partial refund for some of their unused student fees for the 2019 term 2? (e.g., Upass, Dental fee, etc.)

Michelle Lowton, Associate Vice President, Students (interim): UBC and other student association fees are not being partially refunded at this time and the UBCSUO has not issued partial refunds for student fees for Winter Term 2.


Are you anticipating a higher number of enrolment deferrals, and if so what will the approach be?

Deborah Buszard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal: We’ve seen higher than expected enrollment numbers this year (although we always anticipate a summer melt). It is possible that students may wish to defer their studies if they perceive not getting the full, immersive experience – but they also aren’t going to get that anywhere in North America right now. The higher summer session enrollment may be because there is a lack of employment opportunities. There are many uncertainties right now and we can’t look at historical data for this situation.


If courses are offered primarily online in September, how will we ensure that international students are not negatively impacted?

Michelle Lowton Associate Vice President, Students (interim): We have working groups to ensure that all of our students are supported, including international students. We want to be proactive and try to predict what international students are going to need. We know they will need a lot of the same supports they would need if there were here in person, though delivered flexibly (e.g International Programs and Services, academic advising, the learning hub). We are working collaboratively and taking advice; it is not going to be a top-down approach – everyone will have to participate especially the subject matter experts on how we can best support international students.


3rd and 4th-year students often mentor the incoming 1st and 2nd years providing leadership and support. How can we pivot in ways to better support the administration and faculties to amplify a cohesive resilient community experience?

Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Provost and Vice-President Academic: This is being led by Heather Berringer (Chief Librarian & Associate Provost, Learning Services), we are convening discussions about supporting students through various peer mentoring initiatives. Do get in touch with her at heather.berringer@ubc.ca


Are there any plans to push registration to later in the summer to allow staff and faculty more time to prepare?

Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Provost and Vice-President Academic: Registration has already been pushed back. We are open to strategies that will help students, staff and faculty.


Will student residences be open?

Shannon Dunn, Director, Business Operations: Discussions are underway regarding student housing.  It is anticpated residences will be open for some students (upper year and graduate) but not all students.  With all first year classes in term 1 being delivered on-line, there is reduced need for 1st year students to live on campus.  To remain consistent with the objective of minimizing the number of people on campus at any one time, it expected that 1st year students will not live on campus with some exceptions, such as students living in remote communities without reliable internet access.



Theme: Safety and operations

Are we considering changes/updates to the physical space on campus such as we’ve seen in local businesses?

Rob Einarson, Associate Vice-President Finance and Operations: Conversations are happening now, led by the direction of WorkSafe BC, on ensuring safety. There is a sector-wide table with representatives from colleges, universities, WorkSafe BC and the Ministry of AEST working on what kinds of approaches need to be in place. The techniques we see now in grocery stores (e.g. one-way traffic, stickers on the ground for social distancing) may be used on campus. Certainly, frontline services who need to interact with others to do their job will have some sort of physical barrier which will allow them to do their jobs safely.


Is it expected that return to campus will happen at the same time for both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses?

Deborah Buszard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal: There is still uncertainly around return to campus. Right now there is some early-stage planning for some research that requires on-campus facilities (e.g. plant growth, labs with particular equipment) and for that to come back we have to meet the requirement of public health authorities. If we move research on campus and then have some classes on campus how do we integrate buildings for a little teaching and research? These are all things being considered right now as we imagine making the campus work for September.

Rob Einarson, Associate Vice-President Finance and Operations: We are looking to apply our response consistently. Every building functions a bit differently, but there isn’t a sense that we would necessarily do something differently depending on the campus. The rules and methods we will generally apply will be consistent across both campuses and in keeping with provincial guidelines and best practice.


Has UBC explored the postibility of ensuring testing for all faculty and staff as a measure to bring people back to campus safely?

Shelley Kayfish, Director, Campus Operations & Risk Management: This is a discussion that is occurring at the provincial level for the post secondary sector.


Is there a possibility of opening up the gym while maintaining distancing?

Shelley Kayfish, Director, Campus Operations & Risk Management: It is well understood that there is great benefits to overall health and wellbeing through exercise activities. Interior Health is allowing gyms to open as a part of phase two of BC’s Restart Plan, however any facility wishing to reopen must develop a plan that follows safety measures outlined by the provincial health officer and WorkSafeBC. Campus Operations and the team developing guidelines for campus are working with Athletics and Recreation on whether safe use of the gym is possible and if so when that might be.


Will parking remain free on campus for the foreseeable future?

Rob Einarson, Associate Vice-President Finance and Operations: Parking fees are currently not being charged on the Okanagan campus.  This will remain in place until the campus executive feel that the situation has changed to the degree that any staff/faculty/students who need to be on campus are generally able to do so in a safe manner.



Theme: Human Resources


Has there been any decision around suspending hiring?

Gillian Henderson, Executive Director Human Resources: We have implemented a “hiring chill” for staff and administrative positions where each needs to first receive budget approval. An absolute ban on hiring is rarely a successful strategy as there are always some critical positions that need to be filled. This system allows us to assess that and where possible defer, delay, or explore other options.

Rob Einarson, Associate Vice-President Finance and Operations: At the macro finance level, we are mindful the university is part of a public system, so anything we do has an impact on other institutions. Thoughtful conversations about budgets are taking place across UBC and beyond.


Is UBC considering layoffs?

Gillian Henderson, Executive Director Human Resources: We see layoffs as the least desirable option and a last resort. There is a range of other initiatives and options that we would look at before going to layoffs, such as redeployment and controlling overtime and other expenses.

Deborah Buszard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal: This campus needs to keep growing over the medium, to long run. We don’t want to do anything in the short term that would injure that nor the active and ongoing process of academic growth and renewal. Moreover, in the immediate, as we look to adapt academic programs for online delivery, we are going to need a lot of hands on deck. Those who support teaching through library operations, the CTL, and various faculties are going to be very busy over the summer getting ready to deliver classes that have never been delivered online before and to support students both on and off campus.


With all the changes and unkowns I am concerned about the future of employment – do you have any comments to share?

Gillian Henderson, Executive Director Human Resources: We have all been learning new ways of working and interacting with each other. It is difficult to say how sustained this is going to be and what impact that will have on the future of employment but it has opened some new horizons, both positive and negative. I don’t see, personally, that we move to permanent remote work, however this experience has demonstrated how successful remote work can be and that it does offer opportunities to think about blended approaches that work for both the university and our staff and faculty.

Other aspects of the current situation may also remain with us. For example, we will no longer be able to come into work if we are even a little bit sick when we might have previously. The reality is that when we’re back on campus some people will be spending more time working at home and conversations will be ongoing how we manage and adapt to this and support staff and faculty.

Deborah Buszard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal: Discovering we can do things remotely and do them quite well will open up more opportunities. There are lots of things we can do virtually and there are ways people can be productive if we need to be at home. I think in some ways it may make the world of work more easy and flexible going forward.

More broadly, should we be afraid of losing long term stable career employment at UBC? Absolutely not. This is a university that has been here 110 years (and this campus for 15) and it is absolutely here for the long haul. The way we do things may change but shrinking or disappearing is not how we will be a great research university. There is no way that the demand and a need for a university like UBC is going to go away. We will be here for a long time. Universities are long term and they are built for the long term.


What is HR discussing regarding the long-term sustainability for working parents with small children at home?

Deborah Buszard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal: The on-campus daycare is currently using the period of closure to advance renovations. I am hopeful they will be planning to open up in time for the regular academic year. The intention is to have daycare functioning and we aim to build a large extension. Student and Housing Services is also investigating the provision of more daycares on campus. These are good news pieces but unfortunately at the moment, the daycare is not available.

Gillian Henderson, Executive Director, Human Resources: We recognize how difficult it is for parents who are trying to juggle work and childcare, particularly for young children. We have been encouraging parents to look at flexible working hours or to take some vacation time. Unfortunately, we don’t have any magic solution but we are aware and concerned about the situation and are trying to be as flexible as we can and advise flexibility around when and how people get their work done.

Deborah Buszard: I would also encourage you, if you have it, to take vacation time. I know these have been stressful times and I think time off is very important.


What accommodations are being considered for those who are part of a high risk group and have concerns about returning to work?

Gillian Henderson , Executive Director, Human Resources: As we start the planned re-entry to the workplace we will be following the guidance of the Public Health Officer for BC. There will be a process for staff and faculty who have health concerns to raise those confidentially and for an appropriate assessment to be made by our Workplace Health team as to whether or not they can safely return to campus, or whether an accommodation needs to made, until such time as it would be safe for the employee to return to the workplace. As with all accomodations, the assessment needs to be on a case by case basis.


Can the university make any commitments to sessional/contract-based instructors and retaining them in September? Is UBC considering a rise in 8- or 10- month contracts?

Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Provost and Vice-President Academic: Sessional contracts are always hired according to the needs of the programs and the same will hold for this year.


Is there a plan to provide additional funding/ support for contract faculty, considering the huge amount of work to shift F2F lectures to an online format.

Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Provost and Vice-President Academic: There are many ongoing discussions regarding support to faculty (tenure track and contract). I will be able to provide more information in a couple of weeks.


Has there been consideration for the ability to hire student staff? Especially, if we are able to safely open the Hangar Fitness Centre?

Gillian Henderson, Executive Director Human Resources: It is still too soon to determine fully what some of our student hiring will be. We are focused on getting research started again, and then we will have to assess what can be safely offered within Athletics and Recreation and other programing. Some student hiring is going ahead within faculties to support the transition to online education.


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