Read Dean Woodin’s remarks from the October 19, 2022 A&S Council meeting, where she provided an update on the Faculty and University’s response to recent global events, as well as the A&S community’s role in supporting healthy democratic societies.
Welcome to the first council meeting of the year. It’s wonderful to see so many of you in person — the energy on campus has been contagious and inspiring.
While we are back on campus, we recognize that COVID-19 is still with us, and its future, as we move into cooler weather and new variants emerge, is uncertain. I want to remind returning members and share with new members that all public health-related decisions connected to campus operations are made by the Offices of the Provost and President. This includes decisions around masking, physical distancing, etc. My office will continue to keep you updated on any developments and how those impact our operations.
Let me turn now to talking about how the Faculty and the University continue to respond to global events. As you’re likely aware, the University has welcomed many Ukrainian students and scholars in recent months, facilitated by the Government of Canada’s creation of a special visa allowing visiting Ukrainians to work and study in Canada for up to three years. The Faculty has welcomed more than 200 Ukrainian students and several visiting scholars and professors, many here through our standard exchange program, with their living expenses supported by philanthropic giving and partnerships with organizations such as the Vector Institute. Others are here from Ukraine through their acceptance into the Scholars-at-Risk program, which has been in operation at U of T for several years. There are many on campus to thank for their support and leadership, included among them the Department of Computer Science, the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and Innis College.
The Scholars-at-Risk program is for asylum-seekers or refugees anywhere in the world, whose study has been impacted by changing political environments in their country or who are on exchange at the University of Toronto during a time of conflict or political turmoil in the country in which they are registered.
And it is this program that we are now using to welcome scholars from Iran. As you will have seen from his message last week, President Gertler stated:
The University of Toronto is ready to help support students in Iran seeking refuge or asylum in Canada who wish to continue their studies at U of T. We will provide bursaries to them through our Scholars-at-Risk Award Program, and we will match all donations to the program up to $1 million. On top of this, the University will provide needs-based awards to international students from Iran who have been admitted to U of T, through the Iranian Student Memorial Scholarship Fund, which we established in 2020 in honour of the victims of Flight PS752. We will also continue working with our government partners to find pathways for student refugees and asylum seekers to come to Canada.
I want to thank the Arts & Science community for welcoming these scholars into your classrooms and for extending your friendship. I also want to thank members of our community who have taken the time to raise awareness with me and others at the University about these global events as they unfold. Let me particularly acknowledge the organizers of the recent rally to show solidary in support of scholars in Iran. It makes me humbled and proud to be a member of this caring community.
Turning now to other activities on campus, some of you attended a recent event I held at Hart House — a conversation with alum Margaret Atwood and Professor Randy Boyagoda. This event, titled “The Story of Democracy: What’s Next?” was moderated by Sam Tanenhaus, a Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy visiting fellow and former editor at The New York Times.
My motivation for hosting this event is part of a growing responsibility that many members of the A&S community feel to deepen our role in supporting healthy democratic societies. This growing interest is galvanizing into a Faculty-wide initiative, which seeks to engage each student, staff and faculty member in civic engagement. And clearly there’s an appetite for this engagement, as the event sold out within 19 minutes of the emails landing in undergraduate student inboxes.
During the event, our keynote guest, the outspoken author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments, who is often quoted in international media on issues of citizenship, free speech and the importance of fiction writers in a democracy, reminded us that “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom,” and shared her views on the importance of free speech.
During my own remarks to students I asked the following: “My request to each of you is to spill out of this lecture hall tonight and engage with each other in collegial, respectful and meaningful conversation about your differences. And don’t stop there. Engage with your professors and your fellow students inside and outside of the classroom.”
I was thrilled to join students in the Hart House quad following the event, where students from across the breadth of arts and science and across all years of study came together and talked about self-censorship, the war in Europe and their own political views and lived personal experiences. And, as a side benefit, they also made new friends and enjoyed some good food.
I’m looking forward to hosting more of these events and attending similar events hosted by others across campus, in support of fostering pluralism, and as a great opportunity to meet one another and engage meaningfully in person.
As I bring my remarks to an end, let me thank you all for joining us today at this Faculty Council meeting. Your attendance here is a great demonstration of that critical democratic engagement. As you know, we’ve invited you to join us in person or online, and the reason for this hybrid format is that we saw during the pandemic an increased attendance when we hosted online, and because our goal is to ensure maximal participation for the A&S community, we’ve decided to move forward this year with providing that flexibility.
I’d like to also take this opportunity to provide a special thank you to the executive leadership of ASSU. As I’ve remarked previously over the last two years, I’m deeply grateful for their leadership and partnership with our office. My senior leadership team meets weekly with these student leaders, where we can hear about student concerns and work together on meaningful solutions. This was of course particularly important during COVID as we pivoted from one delivery mode to another. Thankfully those conversations have lessened this year and we have collectively turned our attention to looking at more substantive issues, which we’ll be bringing forward to this committee at future meetings.
With that, let me say it’s absolutely wonderful to be back. If we haven’t yet had the opportunity to re-connect in person, I hope we have that chance in the near future.
Melanie A. Woodin
Dean, Faculty of Arts & Science
Professor, Department of Cell & Systems Biology
University of Toronto
Read previous dean's messages and stories featuring Professor Melanie Woodin.