On this unprecedented year, and a hint on what students can expect going forward
Concordia University’s President and Vice-Chancellor Graham Carr virtually sat down with The Concordian to talk about this past year and the university’s plans moving forwards.
TC: How did Concordia handle the changes brought on by the pandemic?
GC: I’m pretty pleased with how the whole university community responded. I think that faculty members, by and large, really made a great effort … to develop courses in the online environment that were stimulating for students and that allowed them to develop the competencies that they needed.
Not to say that [students] enjoyed the situation, nobody enjoyed the fact that we were not able to access campus — but … we had [the] largest graduating class we’ve ever had last June. We had the largest summer enrollment that we ever had. And interestingly, in January, we had the lowest dropout rate from courses that we’ve ever had.
So to me what that says is that students, although it was a challenging year, were making adaptations to try and to cope with the situation.
TC: Can you provide an update on what students can expect for the upcoming year?
GC: We anticipate and we hope that our fall  will include a much greater number of in-person courses. Our senses [are] that students who are not currently in Montreal*… would prefer to be in Montreal, even if some of their courses continue to be delivered online.
Our goal with this is that by May, we can actually tell students, this is what the schedule is going to look like.
*On March 29, Concordia sent a letter encouraging international students to make plans to move back to Montreal for the fall semester. More information can be found here.
TC: Will Concordia consider providing vaccinations for students on campus?
GC: So that’s a discussion point that universities are having with public health. We’ve indicated that we would be prepared to [be a] site for vaccination for members of our own community.
But the decision around the rollout of vaccinations is … a decision of public health authorities. For the moment, they’re focused on an age based vaccination process … and we are part of those conversations with public health, about [the] potential strategies with regard to our own community, including students.
TC: A lot of students have complained that the quality of education has not remained the same. Can you speak on that?
GC: In March and April of last year when we really had to switch on a dime, from in-person teaching to remote teaching … that was an emergency situation and I think faculty members adapted as best they could.
Since that time … many faculty members have continued to modify their approach to teaching in an online environment. So I think that the quality of what is available — I won’t say in every single case — generally, online, has significantly improved.
TC: How are you hearing back from students without the teacher evaluations?
GC: We’ve done a number of surveys with students over the course of the last year. I … meet regularly with both the heads of [the] CSU and the Graduate Student Association. When we were at the height of the closures, we were meeting once or twice a week.
Also we had the COVID-19 hotline and web based interaction where we literally received thousands of questions and comments from students.
TC: Students were asking for a pass/fail option this past year, and the university granted the option for one class after much deliberation. Could you speak on that decision?
GC: Under the context of COVID we were trying to make accommodations which will reduce tension and stress on the student population. If I have any regret about the fall, [it] was that we didn’t come to that decision and announce that decision a few weeks earlier.
I think the ideal framework in which to approach a pass/fail option is not something that’s across the board, but something that’s very selective and which has a positive intention of allowing and encouraging students to experiment. This is something that we want to look at with [the] senate as a potential permanent change to the universities approach going forward.
TC: There have been calls to reduce tuition. What are your thoughts on that movement?
GC: Tuition for the overwhelming majority of students is set by the Government of Quebec. When students are paying tuition they’re paying for the competency that comes with the credits that they get for the course. And whether that’s delivered in an online environment or an in-person environment, the competencies are still the same.
I’m comfortable that the tuition that students pay is to allow them to achieve those objectives.
Courtesy of Concordia University