Before … and after
Kudos to all involved for completing the winter term, but that was just step one
I had lunch with a colleague – a senior administrator at a large university – on Tuesday, March 10. She was looking a bit stressed. She said she’d spent most of the previous several days in long meetings discussing COVID-19 and its potential impact on operations. Her hope, she said, was that they could finish classes on schedule and then maybe have an accelerated exam period and wrap up the academic year before things got serious. No such luck: three days later, on Friday, March 13, the university announced – like nearly every other educational institution in the country by that point – that all in-person classes were suspended and the campus was essentially shutting down. The “before times,” as many have termed them sardonically, were over.
Everyone involved in higher education – indeed, every Canadian – had a version of this “oh my god” moment when it became clear that this pandemic was unlike anything that anyone alive today had ever experienced. That was the basic idea behind this month’s cover story: ask a handful of individuals involved in higher education when they first realized the seriousness of the situation and how they responded. Despite the enormous challenges, I’d say that students, faculty, university staff and administrators reacted with admirable determination and good grace to bring the term to a successful completion as best they could.
Like many others, the editorial team at University Affairs quickly shifted to working from home as we scrambled to cover arguably the most consequential event ever to hit the postsecondary sector in Canada. Many of the stories we’d been working on or had planned now seemed weirdly out of context and had to be scrapped. Even putting together this issue was a challenge as events have been moving so quickly. We’ve included lots of COVID-19 coverage, but also some non-pandemic stories to give you a break (hello Yukon University!).
As I write this, university faculty and administrators continue to scramble to plan for the upcoming fall term, while so much remains up in the air. One thing that is becoming clear, however, is that finishing the winter term was just step one; we’re still a long, long way from anything resembling a return to normal, if that’s even possible. The “after times,” whenever they arrive, may be quite different from the before times.