Dear Saint Mary’s Community,

I am tremendously grateful for your efforts over the last few months. You have all shown dedication, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to adapt to an uncertain environment.
Each of you are working while shouldering many responsibilities. From caring for loved ones to worrying about your health, you’ve done a wonderful job working during this pandemic.

Investments in Success
Recently, we announced that the Fall term classes will be delivered remotely. While courses will be delivered online, we are developing new forms of on-campus experiential opportunities, opportunities that will engage students, staff, and faculty, face-to-face wherever possible and practical.  

To support our faculty, staff and students and ensure this Fall term is a success, we are making important strategic investments including:

  • Additional instructional design and educational development staff are being hired to support the transition of more than 1,000 courses to online delivery.
  • Hiring additional staff for the Software and Application Support Centre (SAS) for training and support services for students, staff and faculty in use of technology and software, including the use of the learning management system Brightspace and other remote tools.
  • Hiring a team of students as full-time “Digital TAs” for the summer to work with faculty in transitioning courses; this team will also serve a core group of Fall term TAs with strong digital skills and experience to assist in training all Fall term TAs.
  • Increased production and technical support to record lectures of the same high quality that they would normally deliver to a class.
  • A student team of peer coaches to support students new to Saint Mary’s who will connect with and support new students throughout the upcoming summer and through the academic year.
  • Launched Jump Start 2020, a program designed to help students improve as online learners. It connects students with many resources who are essential contacts and supports. 
Financial Impacts of COVID-19
Our sector, like many sectors in the economy, is experiencing significant financial impact due to this pandemic. Saint Mary’s University has a strong reputation and history of responsible financial management and we will be drawing on this strength during this time more than ever.

As we look ahead to the fall, we are expecting for declines in student enrollment, particularly international student registrations, and associated tuition revenues. We are preparing for a decrease of in the range of $30 million in tuition revenue, which does not include residence and other ancillary fees and revenue.  

The pandemic resulted in border closures, travel restrictions, issues with study permits, and challenges with biometrics. Our decision to move online for the fall was the right decision. However, international students, in particular, are dealing with significant challenges and concerns that will affect their ability to join Saint Mary’s in the fall as they had planned.

Already, we have taken steps to secure our financial footing for the future: 
  • We have initiated cost containment actions to reduce operational spending and enable redistribution of resources. These actions include a 25% reduction of non-salary operating expenses across the university. 
  • The suspension on all university travel will continue until further notice.
  • Outside of ‘mission-critical’ hiring to replace core staff and prepare for online learning – there is a hiring freeze in place.  
  • Salary and step freeze for all Executive Management Group members, the Senior Management Group, and members of the ‘Administrative, Professional, Confidential’ employee group. 
  • Where it was necessary due to closure of some operations that could not continue, we issued layoffs. 
  • Continued discussion with unionized employee groups as the university seeks possible collaborative options for the future. 
None of these decisions are easy, and we made none of them lightly, but there will be more tough decisions ahead. The university will be in a deficit operating budget position this year. We are closely monitoring enrollment trends and are updating the board monthly.

Today’s Town Hall was an opportunity to answer questions on these topics and more.  For anyone who was not able to join but would like to view a recording of the event, it will be made available in the coming days. I commit to staying in touch with you and holding more of these town halls throughout the summer and during the Fall term. I will also be holding similar town halls with students and their families in the coming weeks. We are facing challenges that are unlike any our university has faced in its long history. Still, I know we will get through this together.

Sincerely,
Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray
President & Vice-Chancellor
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