From the President's Desk
End of Winter Term Message
Dear Acadia Colleagues and Friends,
As I reflect upon the last six weeks, it is hard to believe what we have been through to get us to the end of the academic year. Yet here we are, as the winter term ends, courses are graded, and many of our students will now graduate after completing their program of studies at Acadia. This has certainly been a time without precedent in Acadia’s long history, but as in previous albeit different situations in the past, we have as a community demonstrated the characteristics of resilience, grit, and determination that have ensured Acadia’s survival and success for over 181 years. I am enormously grateful to our students, faculty, and staff for the patience, ingenuity, and commitment that you have shown during this difficult period. We’ve made it through by working together, and by focussing on our core mission of education and higher learning.
Celebrating the Class of 2020
I look forward to congratulating members of the Class of 2020 who have had so much pressure placed upon them as they completed their academic programs under circumstances that were far from ideal. We are preparing a number of ways to recognise and celebrate their achievements at a distance as they graduate, but we will also look forward to welcoming many back to campus to enjoy a real, in-person Acadia family convocation later in the year or whenever we are able to do so. This class has ended their formal time at Acadia in a unique manner, and because of that they will forever be a unique class and one that I hope will unite in their common experience and be even stronger in their connections to each other and to their alma mater.
Supporting Our Returning Students
The financial impacts that the pandemic restrictions have had on students and their families are significant. In order to provide some relief for the financial costs of returning to Acadia in September we implemented a residence and meal plan credit/refund program and established the Acadia COVID-19 Student Relief Fund, which has been receiving a large number of applications. We are grateful to the Government of Canada for the enhancements to the Canada student loan and grants programs, the Summer Works program, and the recent announcement of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) program. The fact that prospective students and recent graduates are also eligible for the CESB is a great benefit, but it is a shame that international students who are staying in Canada are not eligible for support at the moment. We are also working with the Government of Nova Scotia to explore additional ways of helping students financially. Our provincial Vice-President groups are meeting regularly and the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents (CONSUP) is having bi-weekly meetings with the Ministry of Labour and Advanced Education to work through the issues facing us as we plan for the fall.
Academic Planning for the Fall Term
We are now focussed on the future and preparing for the resumption of academic studies in September, come what may. I know you have many questions about how this will happen, and at this time there are still too many uncertainties to give you precise answers. While we do not have a crystal ball to see into the future, we are hard at work planning for various scenarios in order to be ready for whatever happens.
A few weeks ago, I announced the formation of a COVID-19 Planning Task Force under the leadership of the Provost and Vice-President Academic, Dale Keefe. The Task Force is well under way and Dale has been keeping the campus community informed of its progress. He will continue to do that regularly as we go forward.
I am certain that our academic programming will continue and that Acadia will be back in force by September, at the latest. Of course, our decisions will be governed by the directives of Nova Scotia’s public health authority and so we may not be “back in force” in the way we are used to. We may be delivering our programs in different ways, perhaps fully online or some combination of both online and in person; or perhaps we will be back in person but with some continued restrictions in order to maintain control of the virus. Whatever form it takes we will be back, and our students will continue to receive the kind of high-quality education they have come to expect from Acadia. While shifting to remote delivery for the completion of the winter term was rushed, we have a lot more time to prepare for the fall. Open Acadia is already transforming itself into the teaching and learning centre envisaged in our strategic plan, Acadia 2025, and I am so grateful to Jeff Banks, Director of Open Acadia, and his team for how they have stepped up to help our faculty and instructors adapt to our new circumstances. While we cannot underestimate the task necessary to prepare for an online or blended program, we owe it to our students to make sure that we do it in a manner that provides them with the best possible educational experience, even if it is not under ideal circumstances.
Maple League Collaboration
As you will know, we have been increasing collaboration between the Maple League Universities and one initiative has come to fruition at a fortuitous time. At the core of our inter-institutional collaboration is a shared commitment to an extraordinary undergraduate education. In the past two years the Maple League has shared academic programming on a small scale in order to identify challenges and dismantle structural barriers that might impede inter-institutional student exchanges for both in-person and online course offerings.
Since last fall, our registrars have been working on an agreement to end the requirement for a letter of permission and associated fees for students to take courses at the Maple League universities. On April 20, 2020 the four universities in the consortium signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that allows students to take courses from across the four institutions, with a focus on online learning and virtual learning communities, without the often burdensome administrative processes associated with transfer credits from other universities.
Under the MOU, students at any Maple League university:
- do not need a Letter of Permission (LOP) to take a shared course
- do not need to pay additional fees or costs related to course registration
- do not need to pay extra tuition for the Fall and Winter terms, and
- can transfer their grade and course code to their home institution
This agreement provides our students with increased access to diverse courses, programs, mentors, and research supervisors, and the expertise of exceptional faculty across the four universities. The MOU comes at a time when students will be looking for increased flexibility in taking courses as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and it could be very helpful in the coming spring and summer sessions.
I view this initiative as a value-add to Acadia’s already exceptionally rich academic experience, both for our students and members of our faculty, and a powerful recognition of the commitment to collaboration and cooperation between the four Maple League universities.
The spring and summer period are typically important periods of time for researchers to make significant progress on their projects, and for our students to work on their thesis research or to gain valuable research-rich work experiences. While some forms of research have been able to continue, the impact of the pandemic will negatively impact research across the academic spectrum, eliminating the ability for many researchers to engage in field work and undertake vital experimentation and data collection. Along with our academic planning, Anna Redden, our Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, is working with academic leaders and researchers to develop a plan to support the resumption of research activities that have been impacted by the pandemic once it is feasible and safe to do so.
Finances, Budget and Operations
The April meeting of the Board of Governors resulted in the approval of an interim budget for the first quarter of the 2020-21 fiscal year. This allows us to continue operations of the university while giving us some time to prepare a more realistic budget for the rest of the year. We hope to be in a position to present a full year budget to the Board in June. With the uncertainties around revenues from tuition and other fees among our list of concerns, we are keeping a tight lid on expenditures over the spring and summer. Vice-President Finance and Administration, Chris Callbeck and his team are working on different scenarios regarding university operations as we develop plans to reopen our campus when the public health directives permit us to safely and effectively do so. Currently, our work-from-home protocols and public access to campus restrictions remain in place until further notice. More details on our operations and financial management planning will be announced in due course.
The Board has established a COVID-19 Response Committee which is meeting regularly with the senior administration to ensure that the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board can be carried out effectively during these unprecedented and uncertain times. Much of this will focus on budget development and scenario planning for the fall.
Strategy for Moving Ahead
The Board and Senate had just approved the strategic plan, Acadia 2025, when the world turned upside down. It is difficult to think strategically when you are focussed on day-to-day operations and making it through the next few months. While we have postponed the formal launch of Acadia 2025 to later in the year, we have been moving forward on a number of initiatives that constitute part of the plan. Some of these initiatives involving recruitment, retention, and enrolment management are helping us address these uncertain times, and others are helping us move forward on matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion within our community. There will be more to come on Acadia 2025 when, as they say on TV, we return to regularly scheduled programming!
For now, our focus is on getting prepared for whatever conditions we will be facing in the fall and using the spring and summer to ensure that we are ready to offer our students the best possible educational experience, whatever the circumstances.
I continue to be enormously appreciative of how all Acadia employees have responded to the new working conditions, and especially grateful to those who continue to provide essential on-campus services and supports. Thank you all so much.
President and Vice-Chancellor
Office of the President & Vice-Chancellor
15 University Avenue
Wolfville, NS B4P 2R6