Dean Woodin addresses first A&S Council meeting of the 2020-21 academic year

October 23, 2020 by A&S News

Read Dean Woodin’s remarks from the October 21 A&S Council meeting where she spoke to decisions regarding dual-delivery courses and planning ahead for the winter term. 

Dear A&S students, staff and faculty,

Welcome to the first A&S Council meeting of the 2020-21 academic year. This time last year I made my first set of remarks to you as Dean, and never would any of us have imagined that we would be meeting virtually a year from then. We’ve now been operating in this new reality for more than eight months and, during this time, we’ve come together as a community like never before, we’ve supported one another, and we’ve adapted and innovated together.  

I want to thank the A&S staff and instructors who are going above and beyond to teach and engage students online. I know that for many of you, you are rapidly learning to adopt new technologies, transforming your courses, and learning to support students in news ways, all the while balancing often complex personal circumstances. 

I also want to acknowledge the resilience and excellence of all our undergraduate and graduate students. While we are all adapting to this ‘new normal,’ from my perspective, this reality is most impactful on you. You have learned to learn online, you’ve been patient as many of your instructors adapt to virtual teaching, and you’ve found new ways to engage socially (which I know are not the same). I continue to be amazed by A&S students — and I want you to know how deeply you impress and inspire me and the entire Faculty. 

I’d like to briefly touch base on our recent decision to transition the in-person sections of dual-delivery courses to online, and to speak very briefly about the upcoming Winter term. 

On Friday, October 9, the Ontario Provincial Government announced that Toronto would enter into modified Stage 2 restrictions as of Saturday, October 10. While there was an exemption for universities, the Chief Medical Officer of Health also requested that all Ontarians limit trips outside of home, except for essential purposes only such as work where it is not possible to work from home, or school. At all times, the University has taken its guidance from public health officials, and as such interpreted this announcement collectively to limit in-person learning to what is essential. It is for this reason that the Provost requested that all faculties and divisions consider carefully the limited in-person activities that are now taking place on our three campuses. Examples of essential instruction include lab courses, music and practical instruction, learning that requires hands-on activity and health professions’ practical training.  

Following this request from the Provost, I consulted both with members of the A&S senior leadership team, with College Principals, and with the leadership at UTM and UTSC. As a result of this consideration and consultation, we made the decision to transition the remaining undergraduate in-person instruction in dual-delivery courses online. The A&S courses that remain in-person are those that have been in-person only since the start, such as lab courses where the learning objectives can’t be achieved virtually.

I know that this decision was disappointing to students and instructors alike, and I want you to know that I share in that disappointment. We worked hard as a Faculty on our dual-delivery, in-person learning — it’s a complicated delivery mode, and it’s not the easy path. But we have been committed to it since the start because we know how valuable in-person learning is for many students. I highlight this because we would not have transitioned away from that in-person learning if it weren’t for the revised guidance from Public Health.

What does this mean for the Winter 2021 term? As you know, we have undergraduate dual-delivery in-person learning scheduled for courses starting in January, and should we return to Stage 3, we will continue with that in-person learning as planned. However, if we remain in modified Stage 2, we will also move that in-person learning online as we did this term. When will we make this decision? We need to give students and instructors advance notice, while balancing waiting until closer to the start of term when we will have a better sense of the Public Health situation. We anticipate making that decision late November or early December.

Thank you,

Dean Woodin

Melanie A. Woodin 
Dean, Faculty of Arts & Science 
Professor, Department of Cell & Systems Biology 
University of Toronto