As we approach the end of our second month of virtual operations, I want to provide you with an update on the university and share some thoughts on what the future may look like. I do have to warn you that this is a long message, but there is a lot going on that concerns you and we want you to have the information.
First, our priority continues to be YOU – positioning our students and faculty for success in academic and research pursuits, and supporting our staff in a virtual environment. There is an incredible amount of hard work happening every day to ensure we achieve this goal. I thank and celebrate all of you for your patience, your perseverance and your commitment as members of the Saint Mary’s community.
While times are uncertain, we remain focused on our mission, our commitment to excellence and our values, all of which guide our decision-making.
Fall 2020 Term
There are many unknowns about what restrictions and public health advice will be in place for the fall. Whatever they are, Saint Mary’s will be following the best public health advice available to protect you and the broader community. This will affect how courses are delivered and access to our campus. Plans and options for many different possibilities are being developed. As information becomes available and we make decisions, we will keep you informed.
Here is what we know at this point:
Saint Mary’s is known for the quality of its teaching. Our professors are among the best in the country and have international reputations. At Saint Mary’s, you know your professors and they know you. That makes all the difference, and it will continue to be the ‘difference-maker’ for Saint Mary’s.
Regardless of how courses are delivered in September, they will be delivered by our incredibly talented professors in ways that are engaging, challenging and meet the academic requirements for student degree pathways. What does that mean? Courses that are needed for graduation and as prerequisites for degree majors will be prioritized to ensure that the right course offerings are in place for academic continuity and success.
Our advisors, Registrar’s Office staff and student services teams will work with every student to meet your academic and personal needs and exceed your expectations.
We are preparing for the possibility of delivering courses in a way that provides a remote or online option for students, or perhaps is a hybrid of in-person and online delivery. This will support physical distancing and students who need more time to travel to Halifax can continue with their studies uninterrupted. Deans and faculty are working on the options and practical solutions to enable this new approach. This may prove very popular with students and their families as an option to study from home while still having a measure of interaction with others on campus.
I reassure you that accommodations will be in place for health and safety for all students, faculty and staff. Courses will be delivered in a manner that is safe; students will be supported while participating from anywhere in the world if needed.
We will decide the format for the Fall term by July 1 and will communicate with our community regularly so that you are aware of any changes or new information. For students – until then, I encourage you to register for your courses and look forward to a terrific Fall term at Saint Mary’s.
Many of you are participating in the upcoming spring and summer terms – and we hope you are excited. Saint Mary’s has 270 courses that will be delivered online or remotely: our largest ever offering of courses for these terms. Registration for this year is higher than last year, a sign of interest and engagement from students who have high expectations. This positive response is due to faculty and staff who acted quickly to create alternate course delivery for current courses, and to add new ones. Thank you! I also want to congratulate students who are continuing to put their educational goals first despite the changing circumstances. We are proud of you and are here to support you.
Research & Graduate Studies
University research around the world has been affected significantly by the restrictions on access to campuses and public health directives. The suspension of all on-campus and in-person research activities, with the only exception being COVID-19 related research, creates many concerns. To address these and other concerns related to research and graduate studies, Graduate Studies & Research is working with various teams of Saint Mary’s faculty members and programs, and with other Canadian universities.
You can expect to hear more on these issues and how we are addressing them in the coming weeks. I can tell you now that Saint Mary’s will be ready to take quick and responsible action to support our researchers and students to resume research activities safely as soon as public health directives allow.
Celebrating our Graduates
While our in-person Spring convocation ceremonies were regretfully cancelled, we are hosting a virtual graduation event on May 22nd at 3:00 p.m. AST to celebrate our graduates. We look forward to being together online with our graduates, their families and supporters, our faculty, staff and our alumni, all of whom will be invited to help make this the biggest graduation celebration in Saint Mary’s history. Graduates can also return to campus to participate in an in-person ceremony in the future.
We are very excited to host this ‘one of a kind’ celebration for the Class of 2020 and hope that everyone will join in. Consider yourself invited!
Financial Impact, Recovery & Resilience
At Saint Mary’s, we pride ourselves on our long history of responsible fiscal management and on the efficiency of our operations. Both will be tested heavily over the next year, and likely over the next few years.
The financial position of the university is being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic response and the uncertainty it has created. The likely result in the coming months will include significant decreases in revenue tied to enrolment and increases in expenses to address new requirements of how we operate and support our people, programs and spaces. All of this will require very careful financial management and very prudent and responsible action that responds to the immediacy of our situation while also protecting the long-term strength and position of the university.
I also believe there are opportunities for our university that will require investment and attention. I am deeply committed to ensuring that Saint Mary’s emerges from this period as an even stronger and more resilient university and community. In addition, we take our responsibility seriously as a leader in the economic and social recovery of our province, region and country. We are ready, and in fact, we are already taking action to support individuals, business and entrepreneurs and entire communities impacted by this disruption. I hope you are reading the many stories and examples of our leadership and impact in research, in relief and in service at https://news.smu.ca/.
Staying Connected as a Community
Lastly, as many of you know, we had a virtual Town Hall for faculty and staff earlier this week, with over 350 attendees, the largest attendance for any Town Hall at Saint Mary’s. You can click here to see some of my remarks. The highlight of the event was the question and answer period and our virtual university website is being updated to incorporate all the information that was discussed; this site continues to be the home of information related to our virtual operations. There will be more of these events for students, faculty, staff, alumni and community in the coming weeks and months.
Saint Mary’s is your community. We are your home. We are here and we will continue to be here with you and for you throughout this disruption and we will be stronger together at the end.
Warmest regards for your personal health and safety, and your continued pursuit of learning.
Dr. Robert Summerby-Murray
President and Vice-Chancellor