Principal’s message to the Queen’s community
March 23, 2020
Dear Queen’s Community,
Just one week ago I wrote to all of you that we were entering an entirely new reality, one that would test us in ways we never imagined. I asked you to work differently and to prepare for a new way of delivering higher education. After a week’s hiatus during which faculty and staff have worked assiduously and creatively to find alternatives to face-to-face learning, Queen’s students are resuming their studies. Absorbed as we have been in addressing our local challenges, it is easy to overlook the momentous shift that has occurred over the last seven days as over a million university students across Canada have moved their learning online or onto other remote platforms. I have remarked to a few people that had we planned to do the same thing outside of the context of a public health emergency, we would have been hard pressed to manage it in less than a decade!
That we have done so here at Queen’s is testimony to the dedication and resolve of our university community. Of course, such rapid change comes at a price. For the remainder of the academic year our students have lost aspects of their Queen’s experience that are very important, in particular that sense of physical community which has always defined the institution. The university remains determined, however, that they should have every opportunity to complete their courses, and despite altered methods of assessment, to do so to the normal standard expected. Flexibility, innovative thinking and extraordinary efforts on the part of faculty and staff are prerequisites for that outcome, and I am grateful to colleagues across the university for their single-minded and unreserved commitment to the good of our students at all levels.
The challenges with regard to our research mission are also extremely complex and sometimes intractable. The need for social distancing and the shift towards working from home pose particular problems for research laboratories, and for many scholars the closing of the library to physical access is a serious impediment to their continuing research. While we may be forced to close our doors for a time, we will reopen and what we need now is patience, creativity and trust from everyone.
The paradox of our situation right now is that we are doing everything we can to keep ourselves, our institution and its mission together — even while the health crisis is driving all of those things apart. Public Health officials remind us daily that at times like these the public good trumps the needs and desires of the individual. I am grateful to all the individuals within the Queen’s community who have worked to support and advance the university mission despite the unprecedented challenges we are facing, and I am optimistic that we will emerge from this crisis with vitality, determination, and a renewed sense of purpose.
I wrote in my open letter last fall that we need to be ambitious for ourselves, that we need to be self-excelling, our eyes fixed on ways in which we can serve the greater human good. Unexpectedly we find ourselves confronted in our daily lives with an almost unimaginable threat to that good, and we must not fail to address it in our teaching, learning, and research. We must also confound it in the ways we relate to our community outside the university and in society at large. The university has been asked by health authorities and public leaders to offer its facilities and the talents of its members to support the people of Kingston and the surrounding region during this time of crisis. We will naturally work to do so. This is a time to demonstrate the values without which our university could not succeed, even in the best of times: compassion, understanding, trust and selflessness.
A week ago I expressed the hope that we would together face the challenges that lie ahead, and that in our unity we would prevail. Over this last week, I feel more confident than ever that our university will come through this crisis. I am proud of what we have accomplished thus far and how we have rallied to support our institution and its members and I am humbled to be your principal.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor