Graduating students at the University of Northern British Columbia will attend convocation virtually in June, and the president has committed to holding a face-to-face convocation in the future. (UNBC photo)

UNBC opts for virtual convocation in June, commits to face-to-face after COVID-19

Interim president Geoff Payne said feedback prompted him to commit to traditional one when possible

For 2020 grads the University of Northern British Columbia has committed to hold both a virtual convocation in June and a face-to-face one in the future, once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Interim president and vice-chancellor Dr. Geoff Payne told Black Press Media Thursday that earlier this week he sent a message to students about modifying the 2020 convocation with a virtual ceremony and immediately received feedback with a number of people suggesting convocation be postponed to the fall.

“Based on the things I heard from the students, families and community at large, I assessed that information and assessed our options and made the decision today to also postpone our traditional convocation to a date in the future to be determined,” Payne said.

In going ahead with announcing the virtual convocation, he said his intent was to provide some certainty and clarity to allow the university to recognize the class of 2020 graduates this spring.

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. universities opt out of in-person spring graduation ceremonies

In a letter sent to students, Payne noted the university will continue to update them with details regarding the virtual ceremony and once the federal and provincial health agencies say it’s OK for students to return to the campus after the pandemic, then a face-to-face convocation will be planned.

“This is an unprecedented situation and I did not know when things were going to change and I wanted to provide some clarity, but I heard them and agreed with them and we are going to do both,” he said.

UNBC’s campus remains open because post secondary institutions are considered essential services so they can react and respond to COVID-19 if needed, he added.

Most of the campus staff is working from home and it is a ‘ghost town’ for sure, he confirmed.

The students moved to alternative delivery of courses three weeks ago and the term ended officially on Thursday, April 9.

Starting Tuesday, April 14, the exam period will begin and it will also be done online or through alternative delivery.

They have already made the decision for the spring and summer semester to move that online and alternative, Payne noted.

“Fingers crossed by September we will be our usual face-to-face, but that really depends on how things happens with the country. Just looking at the data this morning, Ontario and Quebec are still having extreme challenges. I think it’s going to be quite some time before we get back to normal, whatever that new normal looks like.”

He’s worried about the long weekend, he added.

“Here in Northern B.C., and down your way as well, the weather is starting to turn nice and people are going to want to go outside and have been cooped up for awhile. But we really have to make sure that we are maintaining our physical distancing and keep flattening the curve.”

Payne has been at UNBC for 16 years.

He arrived in 2004 to be with the first faculty of the Northern Medical Program when it started.

Read more: Final funding approval given for CMH redevelopment



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