The University of Toronto (U of T) is among the world’s top research-intensive institutions and one of a very few that excels in all disciplines and subject fields. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, U of T scaled back its research activities to only maintained COVID 19 and critical time-sensitive research, with other research activities that could be done remotely continuing. Along with other Ontario workplaces, the University will institute a phased approach to restarting suspended activities while mitigating the threat of resurgence and future waves. For research, this means instituting implementation principles with the understanding that the recovery and adaptation of research is a complex, interconnected process that will be undertaken in coordination with the academic divisions and institution-wide portfolios such as the School of Graduate Studies, Environmental Health & Safety, Facilities & Services, Human Resources & Equity, the University of Toronto Libraries, and Information Technology Services.
This document articulates the institution’s overarching implementation principles for a phased resumption of University research activities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is meant to inform and guide divisional and unit preparedness and planning efforts. Based on government direction, the University will determine when the restart shall begin and this document should be seen as complementary to any University directives that may be issued.
The University has formed the Research Restart Steering Committee, chaired by the Associate Vice-President, Research Oversight and Compliance and including vice/associate deans/principals research and senior staff from the Division of the Vice-President, Research & Innovation and university-wide shared services. Academic divisions are developing divisional research recovery advisory committees; for multi-department academic divisions, Chairs and Director input is sought via divisional committees. The divisional committees will consider local processes within their divisions guided by these Principles and other guidance developed by the Steering Committee.
- The health, safety and protection of our community (faculty, librarians, staff, students, post-doctoral fellows, and visitors) is the prime consideration as we return to in-person research activities on campuses and in field settings.
- The applicable local, provincial, and federal public health directives and guidelines will inform planning and the timing and sequence of restarting research activities.
- The restart of on-campus research will be coordinated and aligned with University directives.
- Divisional and unit planning and implementation will follow the principles described in this document (and any of their amendments).
- The research recovery and adaptation will consider and recognize equity and inclusion and the intricacies unique to different groups and research settings, including Indigenous.
- Phased recovery and adaptation of research with clear and transparent processes: The recovery and adaptation of research will be done in gradual phases with the identification of considerations that signal the initiation of each phase. These considerations will adhere to government directives and institutional guidelines, including directives that would result in the University deciding to reverse a phase.
- Coordinated approach: Academic divisions have formed divisional committees to determine implementation at the local level. For multi-department academic divisions, Chair and Director input is sought through these divisional committees. In these academic divisions, departments/units may also form committees, in coordination with the divisional committees. Given the varied nature of research and scholarly activities taking place at the University, individual academic divisions/units may add additional processes for specific types of research situations. Approaches and considerations may include co-ordination with university-wide units (for example, the U of T Libraries) as well as affiliated and external partners (for example, the Toronto Academic Health Sciences Network, Indigenous nations and communities, community-based organizations, and private sector partners).
- Limiting on-campus research to those who require on-site resources: At this time or in the near future, all research that can be undertaken from home will continue remotely. This can include virtual knowledge and information dissemination activities that can be coordinated off campus (e.g., conferences, symposia). Those who need to come to campus for research are expected to return home upon completion of the research task/activity (e.g., come to the lab to run an experiment and then return home to continue with other aspects of the research that can be performed remotely). This will lighten the load on institutional services and allow others to come to campus for similar shorter periods of time.
- Research with human participants: Research that involves face-to-face research will be reviewed separately for COVID-19 risks and research ethics issues. Virtual or remote in-person research is encouraged where appropriate. There may be rare exceptions which will require specific prior approval. Additional institutional guidelines, based on government directives, will be developed to inform such research.
- Research with non-human participants:
- Off-campus research: The Principles will apply to off-campus research that cannot be carried out from home (such as field research). Given the additional challenges of coordinating approaches to off-campus research, an abundance of caution must apply, including consideration of the off-campus location, vulnerability of nearby communities, use of local services, travel limitations and shared equipment use. For international research, there may be additional travel restrictions and considerations.
- Research at third party sites (e.g., community organization, Indigenous community, private sector partner or affiliated hospital): The Principles will apply to off-campus research that is carried out at a third party hosted site and will need to follow any additional restrictions set out by this host organization.
- Prioritization of types of research: The principle of equity and inclusion, the requirement for physical distancing, consideration for restart capacity, trainee research completion (e.g., graduate and undergraduate students), and nature of research collaborations and funding, may necessitate the need for Divisions or Units to prioritize certain research types, groups or locations during the initial limited phased return to work. Research that requires core facilities that are used by more than one researcher to be operational may need to wait until those facilities are available.
- Research readiness: Any resumption of research will depend on the readiness of Divisions/Units and faculty members to ramp up their research activities. Considerations will include, for example, building readiness plans (e.g., caretaking, signage, entrances, inspections, etc.), physical space limitations, research supplies and equipment, related supply chain considerations (e.g., computing equipment, personal protection equipment), and qualified personnel, trainee and staff availability. Research with external communities and organizations may need to be collaboratively reconsidered in light of potential constraints or changes in focus as a result of the pandemic. Restart plans will be reviewed by divisional committees with the final approval by the Dean (in consultation with the Associate Vice-President, Research Oversight and Compliance).
- Capacity and critical supplies: The recovery and adaptation of research will not hinder the University’s ability to mitigate and handle a resurgence of COVID-19. Any impact on University infrastructure, services (e.g. environmental health and safety, information technology), and critical supply availability (including personal protective equipment and reagents) will be considered and decided by the University when determining capacity.
- Monitoring: An Operations Working Group of the Steering Committee, chaired by a Director of Environmental Health and Safety, will provide a framework and procedures for overseeing health and safety directives. The Operations Working Group will work closely with the divisional research recovery and adaptation committees. This monitoring will continue should there be a need to pause or pull back any activities based on a resurgence and/or directives from public health.