As I sit down to write this message, community members from across York are busily preparing for the beginning of the Fall academic term – students are participating in orientation events, faculty and course directors are preparing lectures and staff are getting ready to welcome students onto our campuses. In some ways, the bustle of familiar activity makes it seem almost like any other year.
But of course, we know that it is not quite like other years. After nearly 18 months apart, we are finally starting to reopen our campuses with increased in-person teaching, research and other activities, giving an entirely new meaning to homecoming. I want to acknowledge that even during the 2020–2021 academic year, while most of us worked remotely, essential staff continued to meet on-campus needs, some instructors offered in-person instruction when student learning outcomes could not easily be achieved online and many of our researchers maintained urgent work that would otherwise have been at risk.
Throughout the pandemic, and especially in preparation for the introduction of more in-person activities, we have continued to work closely with the Chief Medical Officer of Ontario, Toronto Public Health and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities to ensure the safety and well-being of our community. This is why we made the important decision to require vaccinations for everyone attending our campuses in person – a central component of our multi-layered pandemic defense strategy. We very much hope to welcome many of you this year, and invite you to check out our Better Together website to learn more about our YU Screening Tool and other safety measures.
As much as we are craving a return to normal, we know that higher education, like most other aspects of society, will be different going forward. The transformations triggered by the pandemic – the widespread adoption of remote work; online teaching and learning; the amplified impacts of automation and A.I.; the increased urgency of addressing environmental and sustainability challenges; and the refocused attention on the critical need to address inequality, among others – have permanently reshaped not only York’s future but the future of our world more broadly.
History has shown us that times of great disruption can be an inflection point of rare opportunity for positive change. And so, as we begin a new academic year and a new chapter in York’s future, we are challenging ourselves to seek out these opportunities for enhancing our impact by leveraging the lessons we have learned over the course of the pandemic and advancing our University Academic Plan 2020–2025 – through enriched 21st-century learning, research intensification, enhanced access and student advising, an international perspective and collaborations that extend around the world.
We have many exciting projects in development, including the new Markham Campus, a proposal for a new School of Medicine, a Service Excellence Program and a new cloud-based Student Information System, to name just a few. Working together, we continue to explore, discover, develop, create and innovate – we are ready to right the future. ■