March 18, 2020
To all members of the U of T community:
In recent days, we have all become familiar with concepts like ‘social distancing’, ‘self-isolation’ and ‘flattening the curve’ – all part of our individual and collective efforts to slow and limit the spread of COVID-19.
Further to my letter to the community on March 13, the University has moved judiciously to adopt a series of extraordinary measures to put these concepts into practice (see the update issued on March 17). We have been guided in this effort by the advice of local, provincial and national public health authorities.
Our goals have been to do our utmost to protect the health and safety of our community and the wider population; to ensure that our students can complete their term; to provide accommodation and support for those students in residence who are unable to return home; and to continue to support critical research focused on COVID-19 and other time-sensitive work.
As Canada’s leading university, home to the country’s largest research operation, its biggest and most diverse undergraduate student body, and one of the world’s largest graduate education enterprises, the transformation we have achieved in the last few days is nothing short of remarkable.
We have transitioned all of our courses to alternative means of delivery, making innovative use of online technologies and other ingenious strategies to carry on with our teaching and learning activities.
We have enabled most of our faculty and staff to continue their vital work from home.
We have encouraged those of our students in residence who are able to move to alternative accommodations to do so, while ensuring that international students and those with nowhere else to go have a welcoming home in our residences.
We have suspended most of the lab-based research on our three campuses, necessitating the shutdown of literally hundreds of labs and other facilities, and restricted access to our physical library spaces.
None of these decisions was taken lightly, and each has presented significant implementation challenges. But our community has risen to these challenges with astonishing creativity, commitment, and goodwill.
I want to thank all members of our community across our three campuses for their co-operation and support in these endeavours, beginning with the all-too-often unsung heroes: our staff members – who have helped maintain our student services, who support our online operations, who ensure our facilities and work environments are safe, accessible and well maintained, and who ensure the continuity of our business operations and core functions of the University.
Our faculty members, other instructors, and librarians have gone to incredible lengths to ensure that our students can complete their courses and programs without interruption. This has required many amazing feats of innovation and re-engineering on the fly. But our U of T educators are pulling it off, with great support from our staff, because they are so committed to the academic success and intellectual development of our students.
This is a time when our research and expertise are being featured in the media on a daily basis – a testament to the intellectual depth and breadth of our faculty in medicine, public health and other health science professions, but also across the social sciences, humanities, sciences and other professions. This is a timely reminder to the wider world of the importance of the research excellence we foster at U of T and its affiliated health care institutions.
Indeed, many of our faculty and alumni are now on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. They are working steadily and effectively, under enormous pressure, to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.
Let me also acknowledge our academic and administrative leaders – principals, deans, academic directors and chairs, and their team members. They have informed our decision-making at every stage, to ensure it embraces the needs of all our divisions and each of our three campuses. And they continue to provide stellar leadership across the University.
Finally, our students have shown incredible resilience, leadership and understanding during a challenging and stressful time. Their patience and adaptability in the midst of this crisis are an example to us all. Their concern for their fellow students and for society at large is inspiring.
Simply put, at a time when our actions are accentuating the physical separation between us, the enduring strength of our community is more evident than ever.
Let me close by thanking each and every member of the University of Toronto community for your magnificent response to this generational challenge. The coming days and weeks will no doubt bring further challenges, calling on all of us to be adaptable, creative and understanding. But I am confident that U of T will emerge a stronger, more resilient organization, thanks to you.
I wish you all continued strength in your work and studies, and good health to you and your loved ones, as we move forward in confidence together.
We pledge to communicate with you regularly, as developments require. In the meantime, please visit our website for up-to-date, detailed and authoritative information.
Meric S. Gertler
University of Toronto