Happy May Day. As I write, I am reminded of my student days at Oxford, where the ancient observance of May Day continues, starting with the singing at 6 a.m. of a hymn from the Tower of Magdalen College. As I recall it, as the beautiful sound of that singing reached us below, the sun always shone—which almost certainly was not the case, English weather being what it is. It is a little reminder, not out of place in a pandemic, that our memories are shaped by our imaginations as well as our physical experiences.
I want to start by expressing my deep gratitude for the donations we have received to our Student Emergency Relief Fund. The fund now has $34,000 in donations from more than 60 donors. Prompted by a request from students for a rebate on tuition with which we could not agree, the university has contributed another $30,000 to the fund. It represents the portion of their athletic fees students paid from the date we closed the gym to reduce the risk of Coronavirus transmission to the end of the academic year. Before the fund’s creation, we provided bursaries to help students with additional travel costs to return to their homes and to help some students who lost employment pay a final month’s rent. The fund will be used to help students facing these kind of needs and students whose financial ability to start or continue their studies has been jeopardized by COVID-19 in ways that are not addressed by other funding sources. Thank you to all contributors.
Last week, the federal government announced the creation of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, providing students, including incoming and graduating students, with either $1,250/month or (after the parliamentary process) $2,000/month, depending on whether they have dependents or disabilities. This benefit is for students who are not eligible by their work history for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks.
These benefit programs are, of course, greatly appreciated. But as anticipated in an earlier update, they will not fully address the needs that many of our students, including our international students, are facing. It is therefore crucial that as a university we stand ready to provide additional financial assistance. Your donations are a vital contribution to our ability to do so.
Our response to student need includes our work to create as many online summer jobs for our students as we can, including with our faculty and academic programs to prepare for the amount of online teaching and learning we may be required to provide in the coming academic year. We need a King’s “New Deal,” as Dr. Melanie Frappier and Dr. Gordon McOuat have dubbed it. In response to last week’s letter, a FYP alumnus proposed a very similar idea and donated the money needed to employ one student for the summer. We are also working hard, with some success, to obtain additional funding for student employment from a range of external funding sources. We are also making full use of the funding for student employment previously authorized by our Board.
Campus jobs have always been an important part of the King’s experience for many students. In addition to funding their education, they are one of the ways King’s students contribute to our community and build relationships with each other and our faulty and staff. Our objective this summer is not only to create as many jobs as we can, but also to create a lasting framework for student employment at King’s. This will ensure that the jobs of students who work for the College over time have meaningful and documented educational value, in the present and in their later careers.
Our faculty are now in the process of completing grading. It will soon be time for our graduates to receive their degrees. I previously promised graduands that we will have Encaenia when we can do so safely for them, their families and for everyone. But in the meantime, we will recognise and celebrate the achievement of our graduates within our virtual community. Details of this will be announced soon.
We are increasingly focused on the many questions that universities around the world are facing about how teaching and learning will happen until COVID-19 can be controlled with a vaccine. As one leading American magazine on higher education phrased it, “planning for the fall is like driving through a dense fog.”
King’s remains committed to pursuing our educational mission in September and beyond, in accordance with the orders and guidance of public health authorities. There are two probable scenarios: one where classes are online for at least part of the academic year, and the other involving a mix of in-person and online teaching depending on class size and other factors. We are working to be ready for all contingencies, concentrating on our preparations for online teaching due to the planning and preparations it requires and its necessity in both of the most likely scenarios. Our lodestar however will always be bringing everyone together on campus to the extent and as quickly as we safely can.
The King’s campus is physically—and metaphysically—designed to nurture and support togetherness. But we know our King’s community extends beyond “the Quad.” The matriculation oath, to live according to the “precepts of communal living and learning,” holds true wherever we are, regardless of physical distance. Guided by all the philosophers who teach that education is an act of love, including Plato, Locke, Arendt, Weil and Mr. Rogers, we are planning and working to be together in September physically, virtually or in combination in ways that are worthy of King’s and true to our mission to learn together in community. In this planning and work, we will be collaborating closely with Dalhousie to be our best in either scenario. We will also be coordinating with other Nova Scotia universities through the Council of Nova Scotia University Presidents, and with all Canadian universities through Universities Canada.
Compared to prior messages, this has been a long and detailed one. As reward for getting to the end, I offer you the second in our “president’s combo pack.” Two weeks ago, we offered you President Emeritus Bill Barker on Erasmus. Today, we offer you his predecessor, Dr. Colin Starnes on More’s Utopia: A New Republic. My thanks again to Dr. Robertson and Dr. Dodd, as well as to the Executive Director of Halifax Humanities, Dr. Dawn Brandes, for making these treasured lectures from Halifax Humanities available to us all. They are, in themselves, a bit of encouragement of how we can learn together even when we are apart.