For everyone, around the world, the most significant event of the 2019-2020 academic year has unquestionably been the disruption caused by COVID-19. Here at uOttawa, the scale of change brought on by this virus is hard to overstate: it forced us to close down our campus in March, shift (in 48 short hours!) from in-person course delivery to various cobbled-together forms of distance teaching, rendered telework obligatory for Faculty, staff and students, forced us to repatriate students from around the world (and, sadly, to send home out-of-town students who had moved to Ottawa to study), brought most research to a screeching halt, and has made planning for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year something of an exercise in gazing into an extremely murky crystal ball.
As we all know, only too well, the stress – and distress – caused by the virus has been immense. What has been incredibly inspiring, however, has been that Faculty, staff, and students have demonstrated creativity, patience, understanding, and a shared commitment to meeting these challenges, together. Students worked together to communicate their needs and their challenges; Faculty and staff responded by demonstrating understanding and adaptability. It’s not worked out perfectly by any means – but we can all be proud of what has been achieved to date, and I’m actually quite excited about the many innovative ways we are planning to deliver courses, undertake and disseminate research, and to connect with the local, national and international community over the coming year. Universities are often pretty conservative places (at least with respect to how we teach classes and evaluate learning) but the past four months have been a period of continuous innovation, and some of these strategies will certainly become part of the "new normal", as we learn to liberate ourselves from the constraints of geography. Overall, however, it’s been a mixed bag of positive discoveries for some of the more hidebound, but also real disappointment for some of our most optimistic futurists, as it has become abundantly clear that video-conferencing technology (for example) is not yet able to deliver a learning environment that rivals the physical classroom when it comes to real-time interaction – even though it offers extraordinary opportunities to bring together students across time zones, or to invite visiting speakers located on other continents to beam into our classrooms to meet our students.
But we should not lose track of all of the other things that happened this past year, before COVID-19 took over our lives. The Faculty has been taking increasingly meaningful steps along the path towards the indigenization and decolonization of our curriculum, and we are in the process of hiring an indigenous curriculum specialist, as well as a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair with specialisation in Indigenous Social Work. The urgency of making meaningful progress on this front was brought into sharp relief for me when I was talking with one of our indigenous students who was struggling to complete a course in Canadian politics. "It’s traumatizing to sit in that class", she said, "and to never hear any reference to indigenous governments". And as other colleagues have pointed out, a Faculty with a School of Social Work and a Department of Criminology must be training graduates who are determined to reduce the over-representation of indigenous children in foster care and of indigenous adults in the incarcerated population. I cannot overstate how grateful we are to our partners in the local indigenous community (in particular, Kitigan Zibi), as well as to our campus partners at the Mashkawazìwogamig: Indigenous Resource Centre, for supporting and encouraging us in this journey, as well as to our donors who are making it possible for us to move more quickly along this path. Alumni and community partners are funding scholarships for our indigenous students (many of whom are in significant financial need), supporting leadership training for those still in high school, as well as the crucial work on course content. Together we are change-makers.
As a Faculty, we are also strongly committed to la francophonie, and we were delighted to be able to welcome the Collège des chaires de recherche sur le monde francophone to the 15th floor of the FSS building. Martin Meunier (Sociology), Louise Bouchard (Sociology), Marie-Eve Desrosiers (Graduate School of Public and International Affairs), and Jonathan Paquette (Public Administration) all hold Chairs, and Sanni Yaya (International Development and Global Affairs) was named to the highly prestigious international network of Chaires Senghor. Other examples of the ways in which colleagues have contributed to serving the local, national and international francophone population include the work of the Center on Governance, led by Eric Champagne, which partnered with the AUF to bring leaders from several African universities to uOttawa for a six-month period to develop innovative new strategies for university governance; the work of the CIRCEM, led by Stéphanie Gaudet and Sophie Bourgault, and notably the annual Mauril Bélanger lecture.The Faculty took a key leadership role in welcoming leaders from fourteen African universities to campus last November. They came at the invitation of President Frémont to establish a new network which will promote research and teaching, including a course offering focused on Africa that will be taught by our colleagues from our partner institutions, and in which will be enrolled students from both uOttawa and the universities in our African network. This will provide opportunities for "internationalisation at home" for all of the students enrolled in these courses and, we hope, will feed their ambition to subsequently pursue opportunities for other international experiences.
One of the key responsibilities of a Dean is to work with our Faculty’s Advancement and Alumni Relations team to strengthen our relationships with the broader community. I have had enormous pleasure working with Ouida Louffeholz, our Manager of Faculty Development, to initiate and pursue conversations with donors that have led to gifts that are making this Faculty a better place to be a student, that advance research, and that also are helping us to better serve the community. Sadly for us, Ouida has now been promoted to a new position that is taking her away from the Faculty of Social Sciences, but I am excited by the new "hub" model that is being implemented on campus in support of Advancement activities, and we are very pleased to welcome Nicolas Mercier as our "team lead". We’re also moving forward with various new initiatives on the alumni relations front, as we work to create a sense of community that starts when you apply for admission, and continues to provide support during your studies, and then post-graduation throughout your professional life (and into retirement!). Luckily, our new Alumni Relations Officer, Kelly Ashcroft, is highly innovative and completely at ease with digital communications tools, and this is making the pursuit of this ambition much easier than would be the case otherwise. Finally, I wish to express very particular thanks to the alumni volunteers who serve on our Campaign Cabinet: Julie Barker-Merz, Isabelle Rioux-Wright, Rita Theil, Paul de la Plante, Hubert Marleau, Shaun Singh, Steven Stein and our Cabinet Chair, Duane Green: their encouragement, support, and generosity makes us more effective, and is inspiring.
The reports of my colleagues Marc Molgat (Vice-Dean, Undergraduate Studies), Sylvie Frigon (Vice-Dean, Graduate Studies), John Sylvestre (Vice-Dean, Research), Nathan Young (Vice-Dean, Governance and Internationalization) and Nada Nagy (Chief Administrative Officer) reveal two very important facts. The first is that the Faculty is thriving: we are developing innovative programming at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, we are attracting and educating terrific students who are being snapped up by employers and by graduate schools (when they’re not busy creating their own jobs – we are a hotbed for entrepreneurship!), we are producing cutting edge research, investing in professional development for our staff, and we’re constantly finding new ways to improve on how we get things done. The second, and more important fact, is that the Faculty is fortunate to have such a strong leadership team. I am deeply grateful to my colleagues for their commitment to the Faculty, for their collaborative approach to moving forward on the many different initiatives that they are leading, and for their determination to not merely take on the challenges of COVID-19 but also to use the pandemic to find ways to make changes that will offer improved opportunities to our students, staff and Faculty in the future.
In conclusion, although my first year in the Dean’s office has been something of a trial-by-fire, it is truly a joy and a privilege to have the opportunity to work with so many dedicated colleagues, motivated students, enthusiastic alumni, and supportive community partners. With such a remarkable community, we can take on pretty much any challenge with confidence – even COVID-19! So I look forward to writing this Report again next year, and sharing with you what I am sure will be the many stories of success during the pandemic. Stay safe, be kind to yourselves and to each other, and let’s ensure that our renewed sense of community is a source of strength, both now and going forward.
Faculty of Social Sciences