Nova Scotia

Faculty, staff at Cape Breton University begin transition back to campus

The transition back to the Sydney, N.S., campus has begun as Cape Breton University prepares to resume in-person classes by May.

In-person classes expected to resume the first week of May

Cape Breton University faculty and staff are beginning the transition back to campus after nearly a year. The university hopes to return to in-person classes in early May. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

After almost a year away, Cape Breton University faculty and staff are expected to begin trickling back onto campus today.

The move back, recommended by the university's Return to Campus Committee, comes as classes continue to be held remotely, at least until May.

Tanya Brann-Barrett, CBU's associate vice president of academic and research who heads the committee, said staff need to get used to being on campus before students are reintroduced.

That is so "they can have time to think about how they can teach in those spaces while adhering to public health protocols," she said.

Home offices

Some staff have stayed on campus since in-person classes were suspended in mid-March but many have set up home offices.

Calvin Howley, president of the CBU's faculty association, has some concerns about the transition from those home offices back to campus.

"I think there's some recognition that faculty will have time to transition back over time," said Howley.

"I think if everyone is being reasonable and accommodations are sought in terms of transitioning back to campus, then I don't see any issue there."

Howley said the process of moving online has been difficult and required a lot of work. 

Cape Breton has nearly 5,500 students. (CBC)

According to Brann-Barrett, instructors can keep teaching from home if they prefer. She acknowledged the work many instructors put into their teaching spaces at home. 

"We don't expect them to pull all of that up and move it onto campus," said Brann-Barrett. "The last thing we want to do is cause that kind of disruption in the middle of a semester."

However, staff are encouraged to work within the campus for at least part of their day by doing things like keeping virtual office hours while at the university, or working in their labs.

Howley said if anyone has concerns about the transition process, they should reach out to their manager or dean. 

"We've taken a wait-and-see approach and just see how this rolls out over the next week or so."

CBU plans to welcome students back for in-person classes starting the first week of May.

A time to get comfortable

In the meantime, Brann-Barrett said staff have an opportunity to get comfortable with their "new normal" on campus.

Staff who have not been coming to campus in recent months can expect the usual health and safety protocols like mask wearing, physical distancing and handwashing.

One of the biggest changes is staff will be required to sign in and out either by a paper form or on an app.