Dean Woodin’s remarks at year-end Faculty Council meeting

April 16, 2020 by A&S News

Read Dean Woodin’s remarks from the last Faculty Council meeting of the year on April 15, 2020, notably the first-ever held remotely. Dean Woodin also shares some highlights in a video message to the A&S community.  

Dear A&S students, staff and faculty,

I hope that you and yours are faring well in these uncertain times. I certainly wish we were holding this Faculty Council meeting in-person in Governing Council Chambers.

Let me thank each of you, and all of those in our A&S community, for all you have done to keep our students learning and our Faculty operating. You have been resilient, dedicated, creative and compassionate, despite often less than ideal remote working conditions, including for some of us, unreliable internet access.

During these difficult times, I’ve found it helpful to remember that we are not just ‘working from home,’ but rather we are ‘at home, in a crisis, doing our best to complete our work.’

At many points over the last month, time seemed to fly as instructors sprinted to get their courses online and many students rapidly returned home, but at other points, time seemed to crawl as we all adjusted to the loss of our in-person community and the emotional challenges that physical distancing created. 

As with many dark periods we also find silver linings. For many Professors including myself, one of those has been the unanticipated increased connection with our students through daily emails, video chats and on social media. I speak for myself when I say that however those communications occurred many of them were deeper than before. We truly heard one another and responded with understanding and compassion. Maybe that’s one of the unanticipated upsides of slowing down — we listen and reflect more intently. Whatever the reason for this increased connection, I want it to continue and to use it as the foundation for a more connected and engaged Arts & Science community. 

But alongside this silver lining has also been deep disappointment, including the necessary decision to cancel in-person convocation. While it is certainly true that we can’t recreate the exact experience that had been planned for June, A&S is committed to and excited about hosting an in-person graduation ceremony and celebration, complete with the U of T traditions that will allow us to celebrate the achievements of each student in the presence of their friends and family.  This celebration is being planned jointly by my office and the Colleges, so stay tuned for updates.

While we don’t know precisely when this will end, we have seen the emergence of conversations in recent days about the paths to re-opening economies and countries — and please know that A&S is also working on the plan for our re-opening.

I will say that we are eager to resume in-person activities as soon as it is safe and practical to do so. However, we know that even when we do resume in person, not all members of our community will be readily able to join us due to ongoing travel limitations and delayed visa processing, among other personal circumstances. In our re-opening plans, we will be certain to ensure that those who are participating remotely have vibrant virtual learning and social communities to engage with until they can join us in person. 

While the virtual Dean’s Office has been largely consumed with managing our operations during COVID-19 over the last month, we are continuing to move forward with our academic planning. And if you throw your mind back to pre-COVID-19 times, you’ll remember that the Faculty has been deeply engaged over the last year on crafting our Academic Plan for the next five years. At our last Faculty Council meeting, Vice-Dean Poppy Lockwood provided an update on our successful Strategy Hives, where we heard directly from students, staff and faculty about their ideas for a more vibrant and connected Faculty. We have meaningfully incorporated your feedback. 

Until we meet again, which I hope to do in person in the months to come, please continue to take care of yourselves and thank you for all you are doing to continue the mission of the Faculty and University.

Please stay connected with us through our website, social media channels and A&S Updates emails.

Thank you,

Dean Woodin

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

Watch highlights from Dean Woodin's year-end message to Faculty Council: