Planning for the Fall Term

Monday, April 20, 2020

This message was originally sent to employees by Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor


In October last year, we finalized our new Strategic Plan. Developed after a year of intense collaboration across the University of Waterloo, none of us could have predicted precisely how relevant that plan would be today.

We said it was a plan for an era of rapid change. Who could have known how rapid and how significant that change would be?

The values we established in the Strategic Plan set us up to tackle the complexity we now face with curiosity, courage, engagement and belonging. We need to draw on those values today more strongly than we ever have done.

We said in our plan that Waterloo is built for change. And we are.

Today, I am writing to you to address one of the most challenging questions the University has had to tackle: how will we handle the upcoming Fall term?

Simply put: today, we don’t have enough data or facts to properly answer this question with certainty.

Like every university, college and school in the country none of us can predict with confidence what the situation will be in September. Leaders across the University are in touch with colleagues across Canada and with our colleagues here on campus, particularly in the Faculty Association and Staff Association.

I have agreed with other presidents that we will collaborate in our planning to ensure students across the country have equitable access to education so we can continue to develop talent for our complex future. We will work together to support researchers tackle research for global impact. We will work to support employees and students build sustainable communities through this era of change.

For now, we must build full plans for the Fall Term to happen at a distance. This means building on what we are learning as we complete Winter term and prepare for Spring term at a distance. We must continue to redesign courses and perhaps adjust program elements or sequencing so that students can continue to demonstrate learning in new ways. We must develop processes and strategies to allow our students’ research to continue and thrive.

I know that this means that we cannot deliver some parts of courses that we consider vital to a quality, rounded academic experience – such as labs or field courses—at least, not in traditional ways. We need to plan for flexibility over the next several terms to deliver to students the full educational experience that they expect from Waterloo, albeit in evolving formats or sequences.

Whatever the outcome – and we will make every effort to clarify a final decision in plenty of time for detailed planning to happen – we need to do whatever we can to ensure our students continue to experience Waterloo quality in whatever way they experience it.

We said in our Strategic Plan that it would enable us to support our community and students who are worthy of the absolute best experiences and outcomes. COVID has challenged us all to bring the ideas in our plan to life – along with many more ideas – right away. Building on the dreams, scholarship, and diversity of people at Waterloo, we will unlock knowledge and innovation to shape the future of our nation and the world. 

I am truly grateful for your support for one another as we all try to adapt to circumstances that face the world today. You can expect to hear more on the University’s direction for the Fall Term in the coming weeks.

Thank you.