I want to once again thank you for your patience and support as we near the end of the eighth week since we suspended on-campus research and scholarly activities in research spaces.
This includes our campuses, fieldwork and activities that involve face-to-face (in-person) interactions.
The offices within the VPR portfolio have transitioned to remote operations and we continue to work to support our research community, recognizing that individual researchers face unique professional and personal challenges given their own circumstances.
As the province moves towards re-opening, we look forward with optimism to resuming some of our suspended activities using a careful, phased approach.
Research working group
I have formed a COVID-19 Research Working Group (CRWG) to advise on the resumption of the suspended research activities.
The CRWG developed a framework (available here), approved by Vice-Presidents Council on May 12, for phasing in research activity.
This will be in accordance with an overarching goal of increasing access to on-campus research spaces, fieldwork and face-to-face interactions with research participants.
While I recognize that this process is unusually detailed, it is critical that research activities resume in a manner that ensures the health and safety of our students, staff, faculty, research participants, and collaborators, as well as the broader community in which Memorial exists, at a time when COVID-19 remains a threat in our province.
While we aim to resume research activities that were suspended on March 19, 2020, for the foreseeable future research that can be carried out remotely should continue to be done remotely.
I have asked deans and school heads to only request, on behalf of researchers in their academic units, access to on-campus research spaces, fieldwork and face-to-face interactions with research participants when absolutely necessary.
We will move to level 4 access, as described in the framework, based on the province’s move to Alert Level 4 of the N.L. COVID-19 Alert Level System.
Based on the experience in dealing with Level 4 requests, the criteria and process may be adapted for requests for access at Levels 3 and 2 considering campus specific protocols, management and governance.
Deans and school heads have been asked to prepare a package of requests for their faculties and schools that covers the range of on-campus research activities and fieldwork that they wish to have proceed during Level 4.
They will co-ordinate a process within their faculties and schools to solicit, review and prioritize requests under this framework.
Deans at Grenfell Campus will co-ordinate their requests with the associate vice-president (Grenfell Campus) research and graduate studies, and school heads at the Marine Institute will co-ordinate their requests with the Marine Institute Research Working Group and associate vice-president (Marine Institute).
Within the package of requests, each activity must be described on a separate request form (see the COVID-19 On-Campus Research Level 4 Request Form and the COVID-19 Fieldwork Level 4 Request Form), which includes an activity-specific COVID-19 health and safety plan. Specific information has been communicated to deans and school heads.
Following faculty/school level processing and submission, the CRWG will review requests.
I have asked deans and school heads to submit their initial set of requests by May 22, the CRWG will convene to review requests following that date.
Going forward, I anticipate that the CRWG will consider requests on a weekly basis.
I also ask for your understanding that Memorial’s various support units, including custodial services in Facilities Management, Environmental Health and Safety and IT Services, as well as units in my portfolio, such as Technical Services, Animal Care Services and the CREAIT Network, have to work under COVID-19 health and safety protocols that present significant challenges to delivering their normal services.
Under the COVID-19 circumstances, staff or students must not be compelled to be involved in approved research activities if they do not feel comfortable doing so.
Deans and school heads will put in place a process to maintain contact with any individuals working on approved activities to ensure that this requirement is achieved along with ensuring compliance with any conditions associated with request approvals.
It will be necessary for units to immediately suspend such activities if the approval conditions are not being met or if deans and school heads have concerns about the health and safety of researchers or other staff who may be working in the same building or elsewhere on campus, or of members of the general public.
I know that we are all committed to supporting the fulfillment of the critical research mission of the university while ensuring the health, safety and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, research partners and the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Let’s work together to achieve that in these challenging times.