November 24, 2020
Dear members of the McGill community:
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched us all. Some have been marked by profound loss. Many more are struggling with stress and hardship, or are concerned for people in their lives who are struggling. This has been challenging for everyone.
From the very outset of the pandemic, the University has been guided by an essential directive: to ensure the safety and well-being of each of our students, staff and faculty. United by this commitment, we implemented a sudden and remarkable shift to the safe, remote delivery of academic programs in March. The University has since been able to continue to function safely and effectively because of the tireless collective efforts of our entire community, and the thoughtful, measured guidance of the Emergency Operations Centre and the Academic Planning Executive Committee.
These measures were necessary in the face of extraordinary circumstances. The shift to largely remote delivery, however, was a temporary measure that, no matter how well executed, cannot replicate the full student life and learning experience for which students choose McGill. This includes the in-person classroom experience, the serendipitous and spontaneous interactions, and the international and worldly experience that students seek when they gather on our campuses. The same holds for our working environment. Although many of our administrative and support staff pivoted to temporary remote working, we must remember the crucial role that they normally play, every day, in transforming our campuses into something unique and special. McGill is its people. When we come together on our campuses, we turn buildings and grounds into vibrant meeting places and lively forums. We create an irreplaceable environment where lives are shaped and ideas grow.
We continue to face immediate, serious challenges, with Montreal remaining a red zone. All the same, now is the time to prepare to move responsibly from temporary emergency measures to a new phase of co-existing with COVID-19. The past many months have proven that we are up to this new challenge. McGill has adjusted its on-campus activities to mitigate the risks of transmission; now more than 3,000 individuals are already safely working, researching, and studying on our campuses every day.
Although the end of 2020 brings encouraging news of vaccine trials and rapid testing, the pandemic will be an ongoing element of daily life for the near future, so planning for Fall 2021 must begin now. Current planning for additional and enhanced in-person teaching activities serves as a springboard for returning to a more normal, yet still low-density, mode of academic program delivery. The Winter 2021 planning is progressing well, thanks yet again to the dedicated efforts of so many in our community. The upcoming Winter semester will be an opportunity to test our capacity to return from mostly online delivery to more of the in-person educational experience, including classroom teaching, for which McGill is known across Quebec and Canada and around the world. Fall 2021 will still not look like Fall 2019—but, importantly, nor will it look like Fall 2020.
Adapting swiftly to our new reality must be an institutional priority, for there is much at stake: the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff; the integrity of our academic programs; and McGill University’s attractiveness and overall ability to pursue its teaching, research and service missions. It is time to remobilize our ingenuity and creativity to face this challenge. With health and safety always our principal imperative, it is time to plan a return to more normal academic, research, and working activity as much as possible. We have risen to the occasion before, and it is urgent that we do so again.
Professor Suzanne Fortier
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
and McCall MacBain Professor
Professor Christopher Manfredi
Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic)
Professor Yves Beauchamp
Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance)