April 27: An update on the road ahead


To:          Dalhousie students, faculty and staff

From:     Deep Saini, President and Vice-Chancellor

Date:      Monday, April 27, 2020

Re:         COVID-19 update #10: An update on the road ahead


Today, we are providing updates on:

We have reached the end of a winter term truly unlike any in Dalhousie’s history. Over the past several weeks, we have all worked through a great upheaval and while it has not always been perfect, we have come through it as best as possible by focusing first and foremost on our students, and remembering to lean on our empathy and understanding towards one another.

We owe gratitude to our students for their patience and commitment, our faculty for their ingenuity and steadfast dedication, our researchers for their flexibility and focus, our frontline healthcare members who work hard to keep our broader community safe and our staff for their resilience — including those essential workers who remain on-campus to support vital operations. On behalf of all of Dalhousie: thank you.

We know you have many questions about what comes next. This message is intended to share what we know at this point. We will continue to keep you updated as this situation evolves. Please know that leaders and teams across our institution are hard at work planning for various scenarios in response to the impacts the last several weeks have had on our community.

Fall term: Planning for uncertainty

We know everyone has many questions about the fall, in particular, about what courses and campus operations will look like. I know this uncertainty — which extends beyond Dal to our society at large — is an extra burden at an already challenging time.

We can assure you that degrees, courses and instruction will continue, whether online, in person, or some combination of both. Students will continue to receive high-quality instruction from our outstanding faculty and teaching staff, and we will continue to explore and invest in our online learning platforms to enhance the learning experience. We will heed the lessons learned from this winter term and apply them in support of our students and their academic experience whether our students are on-campus, learning remotely or involved in a blended approach.

Equally, we understand the financial impacts these last several weeks have had on students, their families and our community as a whole. We are thankful with the news of enhanced student financial assistance programs by the Government of Canada and Dalhousie is also pleased to have helped hundreds of students through this period with emergency bursary support. We continue to fundraise for student financial assistance through our ProjectDAL student initiatives. With planning underway for the fall, we will ensure we keep financial challenges top of mind.

Our fall term will be largely dictated by public health protocols and the impact they have on instruction, campus operations and student mobility. Continued social efforts to “flatten the curve” over these next several weeks will help us to be able to return to on-campus operations, but there may still be significant restrictions required. There are many potential scenarios that are possible depending on how the public health situation evolves.

Ultimately, it is still early in this pandemic to know much about the fall, but we will work together to ensure that no matter what September looks like, our students are supported with high quality instruction and our mission-critical work continues. Provost Teri Balser is leading a set of cross-university working groups focused on core aspects of our academic mission, helping develop university-wide approaches to support our students, our faculty/instructors, and with our academic units to assist in instruction planning for the fal.

As we know more about the fall term, we will keep you updated. We hope to be in a position to share more on our plans with you in June.

Return to research

A Research-led team is determining how our research will resume in a phased approach once it is feasible and safe to do so. We know this is particularly relevant to our researchers, research staff, post docs, graduate and undergraduate students, many of whom have not been able to continue their work due to COVID-19 restrictions. Researchers can expect to hear more about these plans and a phased approach to resuming research operations shortly from the Office of the Vice President Research and Innovation.

University operations: Extending restrictions until at least July 2

In alignment with broader public health protocols in our province, we are extending some of the current restrictions in place around university operations and activities until at least July 2. Previously, some of these restrictions were set to expire on June 1 or earlier. These include: on-campus facilities and services that are currently closed or operating remotely (including the Libraries, Dalplex and fitness facilities, etc.) and university in-person events.

A cross-functional working group has been established to develop a comprehensive re-opening plan for all areas of the university once it is determined safe to do so. We will continue to evaluate the situation, update should these restrictions change, and communicate plans for re-opening when we have more details to share.

Spring graduation: Celebrating our newest alumni

As you are all aware, we are not able to conduct Spring Convocation ceremonies as usual this year. We have committed to ensuring all students who wish to cross the stage will be able to do so at a future ceremony. At the same time, we want to ensure the Class of 2020 has its well-deserved recognition this spring.

We’ve brought together a team, led by the Registrar’s Office, to develop a plan that will celebrate our graduates. These celebrations will provide members of the Class of 2020 an opportunity to take pride in what they’ve achieved and show our newest alumni just how much they mean to us, even though we cannot gather to do so in-person. Stay tuned for more details in the near future.

Financial management: Doing our due diligence

A significant uncertainty we have to prepare for is not knowing how this pandemic will affect our enrolment. This is particularly relevant to budget planning, as revenue from tuition fees funds over 40% of the university operating budget, and understandably, given the broad impacts of this pandemic, the stability of our other operating revenues is also uncertain at this point. We are hopeful that with instruction continuing (see “fall term” information below), and with strong recruitment numbers at this point in the year, our enrolment will remain relatively stable. That said, we don’t yet know the full implications of how this pandemic will affect student mobility, access and interest for the upcoming academic year.

This challenge is not unique to Dalhousie – it is shared across the higher education sector in Canada and, indeed, much of the world — but it requires caution in our budget planning. We have taken the following measures:

Budget reviews: Faculties and support unit leaders have been asked to review budgets to ensure only the most efficient and required new spending is undertaken and to identify measures to reduce costs where possible, in preparation for a potential budget scenario in which revenues are lower than forecast. Operating expenditures will be significantly reduced in a number of areas including travel, utilities, on-campus supplies and materials, externally contracted services, non-essential recruitment and renewal of casual and temporary employment. Significant reductions in these costs will help us to prevent or delay future layoffs.

Recruitment and Travel: New hiring is temporarily paused excepting those deemed critical in moving immediate university priorities forward. Searches for limited-term academic appointments (instructor stream or professoriate) needed to fulfill teaching requirements may continue. Approved career-stream faculty searches must be reviewed with the Provost and VPA before posting. For further information on hiring protocols, review the COVID-19 Guide to Employment (NetID/password required). In addition to these measures, we will be limiting university travel by faculty and staff until, at a minimum, December 31, 2020, as a cost-reduction measure. Exceptions will only be permitted with approval of your respective Vice-President.

Capital projects and renovations: Facilities work that can be safely moved to a later date is being deferred.

Looking ahead

Moving forward as a community in a time such as this is a shared challenge and responsibility. We can take confidence, though, in all we’ve achieved and done thus far. We did so by bringing out the best in ourselves and our Dal community: our resilience, our creativity, our commitment and empathy towards our students and towards one another. We worked together as one team, one community — One Dal.

As we move forward together, let us continue to bring out the best in ourselves, in each other, and the collaborative spirit of this great university.

A final note, to our faculty and staff: a reminder of the planned Community Check-In virtual event scheduled for this Thursday. Please refer to the email invite sent to you on Friday for full details.


Deep Saini
President and Vice-Chancellor