2020 has been an unprecedented time globally. This time last year few of us could have imagined what would lay ahead with the COVID-19 pandemic. The phrases ‘physical distancing’, ‘PPE’, and ‘contact tracing’ were not in our everyday vocabulary, and unlike today, face masks were not the literal must-have accessory.
Mount Allison put our COVID-19 response into action on Friday, March 13, in accordance with the Province of New Brunswick’s wider response to the pandemic. On campus, we moved to necessary services only, completing the winter term virtually, assisting students as they moved home, and continuing to house and support a number of students who could not make it home due to travel restrictions.
Faculty and staff members across the University set up home offices, the beginning of what would be months of working remotely. Others, including many of our colleagues in Facilities Management and Housing, continued to work on campus as operations were adjusted to meet new public health guidelines. Our community members have accomplished astonishing things and I thank them for their adaptability and professionalism during this time.
We then moved to an entirely online spring/summer term and transformed a number of the University’s signature events — including the Last Lecture, Conferring of Degrees, and the ASCARS (the Mount Allison Students' Union's annual awards night) — into ‘virtual’ celebrations. The fall term will see a mixture of online and in-person classes, which provides flexibility and choice for students. We recognize our plans must be adaptable, but are excited to welcome back those who are able to be on campus safely.
With these changes come opportunities and challenges, both expected and unexpected, for our University, our province, and people around the globe. The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most challenging situations in Mount Allison’s history. It has affected each and every area of University operations, from course delivery to cleaning procedures. Online course offerings, virtual meetings, and physically-distanced spaces will result in a different experience than the Mount Allison alumni would have experienced; nonetheless, we are committed to delivering an academic experience worthy of the Mount Allison tradition.
Our approach is guided by the belief that ‘online does not mean unconnected’. Although our campus and services are going look different this year, students will find that that the University remains committed to student success. We are fortunate to have many strengths and supports that make this community a special place, both physically and virtually, including:
- You, our alumni and friends. The Mount Allison alumni network is an interconnected one. Your support — assisting in student recruitment, sharing your Mount Allison story, your time, and your treasure — have helped us weather this and other storms. The ongoing Mountie2Mountie campaign in support of current students affected by COVID-19, which has raised over $170,000 to date, is a wonderful testimonial to this support.
- An ongoing partnership with the Town of Sackville and the Tantramar region. Indeed, the Sackville/Mount Allison bubble existed long before COVID-19 ‘bubbles’ were part of our daily conversations and is something we will be focusing on as we welcome students back to campus and Sackville safely this fall. Mount Allison is fortunate to be situated in a community that graciously welcomes our students each year and is focused on working together in a collaborative way.
- Our physical location is also a bonus in this era of physical distancing. We are situated in a rural part of Canada that has seen some of the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the country to date. While this is no reason to be complacent, the advantage of physical space around campus and New Brunswick is notable. As I write, faculty and staff across campus are working behind the scenes to make the best use of this space and ensure classes and other campus activities can happen under new physical distancing guidelines.
- And, last but certainly not least, the commitment of faculty and staff who are focused on the needs of students and dedicated to delivering an exceptional academic experience.
While Mount Allison is not immune to the unpreceded financial hardships seen around the world this year, the University’s strong track record of financial management is helping during this time of uncertainty. The fall enrolment forecast is more uncertain than in past years, which makes planning more difficult; that said, we are undertaking a host of initiatives to encourage students to begin or continue their studies at Mount Allison this fall. We are bringing new technology online to support online and on-campus learning and developing enhanced health and safety measures to ensure our campus remains a safe and welcoming place to study, work, and live in the ‘new normal.’
These past few months have brought a whirlwind of change and unprecedented circumstances to all of us, but our community has risen to the challenge and I am proud to be part of such a wonderful team.
We will be OK. Ça va bien aller.