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August 25, 2020
As September draws near, I hope everyone had a chance to take some time off this summer, and that we are all rested, re-energized and ready for our new academic year. It will be an unusual one, but I am fully confident that our Carleton community will continue to rise to the challenge.
But before I speak to the fall, let me start by thanking everyone for a truly successful summer semester. Given the unfavorable job market and generous governmental aid programs, students were looking for meaningful ways to spend this unprecedented summer and many –30 per cent more than last year – wisely chose to advance their studies.
In the same vein, our student enrolments for fall 2020, as of today, are very similar to those of last year at the same date. We will only know the final numbers later in the fall, but it will be in the same ballpark – about 31,000. I want to congratulate our students on their sound judgment in electing to pursue their studies even though we unfortunately cannot all be together on our beautiful campus. There is no question that working towards a university degree is by far the best path forward in these difficult times, and as we come out of the pandemic and face its long-term effects, a degree and the skills that come with this degree will be absolutely critical.
Canadian universities were prudent, and it appears rightly so, in holding the fall semester almost exclusively online. Indeed, attempts to return to American campuses in significant numbers, for example at North Carolina Chapel-Hill, Michigan State and elsewhere, had to be aborted. COVID-19 numbers worldwide remain very high and many jurisdictions that had successfully contained the virus – for example Australia and France – are now seeing a resurgence in cases and reinstating more severe public health restrictions.
It is within this context that we must plan for our next big decision: the winter 2021 term. As the Provost wrote to all course instructors in July, even if public health restrictions are eased such that some face-to-face instruction could resume, many students may not be able—or may not be comfortable— returning to campus. We will need to ensure that winter 2021 courses are developed in a manner that will allow them to be delivered to our students who will be taking them remotely.
In all decisions, we will continue to be guided by the key principles outlined by the Carleton University Scenario Planning (CUSP) working group, and we will continue to place the health and well-being of students, staff, faculty and the broader community above all other considerations. Last Friday, at a special meeting of Senate, CUSP presented a draft recommendation that the winter semester proceed online, with some leeway for selected optional instruction on campus (e.g. specific labs, capstone projects, recitals) if circumstances allow. Senate was supportive of this direction and a more formal announcement will follow shortly.
It goes without saying that as we continue to adapt to this ongoing pandemic, we must continue to actively plan for a better future for Carleton, the country and the world. This fall we will be officially launching our recently approved Strategic Integrated Plan, and we will accelerate our efforts across all three strategic directions: Share knowledge – Shape the future; Serve Ottawa – Serve the World; and Strive for Wellness – Strive for Sustainability. Disrupted times present challenges, but also provide new opportunities, and we are seizing them.
Notably, Assistant Vice-President Michael Charles and his colleagues in the Office of Equity and Inclusive Communities have developed a comprehensive set of draft strategic actions aiming to enhance human rights, equity, diversity, inclusion and anti-racism on campus. I want to thank all faculty, staff, students and community members who have taken the time to contribute to these critical discussions. The importance of this work cannot be overemphasized following the tragic killing of George Floyd and calls for systemic change around the world.
Last week, the Equity and Inclusive Community Advisory Group reviewed this draft, provided input, and confirmed that the work was heading in the right direction. It’s a broad and ambitious strategy – not unlike Kinamagawin (Learning Together) or our Coordinated Accessibility Strategy – that will provide a unifying vision and promote positive, long-term change for our community. Campus-wide consultations on the draft will be announced soon. Please take the time to participate in this important process, which will build on the extremely successful healing sessions and anti-racism and allyship conversations that were held over the summer.
Let’s all enjoy these last weeks of summer, and build momentum for a great fall semester. Our community has been exceptional through these unusual circumstances, and it is fully within our power to have a fantastic 2020-21 academic year. Onwards and upwards!
Have a great day,
President and Vice-Chancellor