“Campus just isn’t the same without students:” President’s letter

April 2, 2020


Dear members of the McMaster community,


Living close to the university means that on most evenings I am able to take a walk around campus, keeping the required distance from anyone else, of course. That isn’t difficult to do. Although there are lights still glowing in labs and in residence buildings where international students are living, campus is quiet – incredibly quiet.

In some ways it is peaceful, but I much prefer it when our campus is buzzing with activity.

Campus just isn’t the same without students.

This isn’t the way that any of us thought the academic term would finish. While virtual classrooms and online assessments will give all our students the opportunity to finish their courses and earn their credits, we are all missing the face-to-face connections with friends and colleagues. I want to thank all of our instructors and faculty members for working so hard to move their programs to virtual classrooms. I also want to thank our students for being open to new ways of learning and completing assignments and research programs in different ways.

The requirement to move away from campus on short notice and before the end of term, and being separated suddenly from friends, mentors and instructors only adds to the disruption for our students. We know that for many, financial concerns are weighing heavily, alongside worries about parents, grandparents and other family members. Like you, we are all in the process of adjusting to physical distancing and staying at home most of the time, and as a community we are facing the future with more uncertainty than we have probably ever experienced.

I know that many of you are deeply disappointed that we are not able to hold an in-person convocation this spring. I share that disappointment, as do our faculty. Convocation is one of the high points of our year. We take enormous pride in celebrating the achievements of our students and we share in the joy of your family and friends as you walk across the stage. While convocation cannot happen in person right now, people across the University are working hard to create a virtual convocation this spring, and there will be in-person events this fall that will be as memorable as McMaster’s usual graduation ceremonies. We’re looking forward to sharing the details with our graduating class soon, and to celebrating your success in novel and creative ways.

As a University community we recognize the need to support our students in other important ways too. We have staff working with students in need of emergency financial assistance and have increased the funds available to help if students find themselves unable to pay their rent, buy food or manage other necessities.

Other areas across campus are also connecting with our students to make sure they know they are not alone and that there are many people willing to help. Faculty members in Science are sharing photos of their makeshift home offices with students, along with notes of support and encouragement. Student leaders from the McMaster Students Union, the Graduate Student Association and the McMaster Association of Part-time Students are working hard to ensure that the concerns of students are brought to the attention of the University administration.

We don’t yet have the answers to many of the questions that are being asked. But we are working through the issues one by one and we are committed to supporting the students who are at the core of our mission, and to celebrating all that they have achieved.

My thanks to each one of you, as we navigate our way through these challenging days.


David Farrar

“The quiet heroes of this disquieting time:” President’s letter

March 27, 2020


Dear Members of the McMaster community,


Life as we know it has changed considerably at the University.

Only the most essential activities are continuing across our campuses; the vast majority of our community is studying, teaching and working remotely. The end of the term is like none we have ever seen before and, looking to the future, we are planning for potentially months of change and disruption.

But despite all of this, the fundamental elements of a strong and positively focused university are very much in evidence at McMaster.

In our research labs, the collaboration and creative innovation needed to find solutions to COVID-19 continues to move forward. McMaster’s Arinjay Banerjee, a postdoctoral researcher at McMaster’s Institute for Infectious Disease Research, along with collaborators from Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, was successful in isolating severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the agent responsible for the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19.

At McMaster’s Manufacturing Research Institute, engineers are working across multiple areas of expertise designing a prototype of a new ventilator that can be put into production quickly to provide hospitals with the necessary equipment to support COVID-19 patients.

McMaster continues to be the world’s only producer of the radioactive isotope I-125. Staff in the reactor continue to do everything possible to meet the global demand for this critical cancer treatment.

From assessing the impact of infectious disease and the science of exercise on our aging communities to capturing the impact on mental health and societal change, researchers and research staff are reaching across disciplines, bringing their expertise and innovation to tasks that will have the biggest impact on the pandemic.

In addition to our researchers, there are faculty members finding new and creative ways to bring their teaching to students no longer sitting in front of them, and ensuring that students can finish their courses and complete their programs in time to take the next step. There are many, many others who are keeping our campuses clean and safe for those who remain in place, keeping our information and finance systems running, and supporting our students through all this upheaval and uncertainty. They are the quiet heroes of this disquieting time, and their work is critical and appreciated.

These are the principles and commitments that strengthen our University. They are the reason that McMaster has become a world leader in research, teaching and community contributions that are making an impact down the road and around the world.

The COVID-19 emergency has thrown our health-care systems, our economy and our social fabric into disarray. In addition to claiming lives, it presents a global challenge to our usual ways of living, working and interacting with others. We have the opportunity now to focus on what is important, and to find our way through this crisis with strengthened ties to each other and a renewed commitment to work together on common goals.

We are all stewards of McMaster’s legacy. We each have a role to play in upholding the fundamental importance of science, evidence, expertise, perseverance, humanity and community that will bring us through this generational challenge.

I want to thank all of you for your hard work and your unselfish commitment.


David Farrar

“Together, we are meeting the challenge:” President’s letter

March 20, 2020


Dear Members of the McMaster community,


When the world is fundamentally shaken, what do we need to do?

That question had to be answered by all of us – in every hour, of every day this week. I have witnessed truly outstanding commitment to our students, to the important work that happens at the University, and to each other.

I cannot tell you how proud I am of our institution.

I am one of the more recent additions to the McMaster community.  I came because of McMaster’s reputation for excellence and its long history of creativity and innovation. What I perhaps hadn’t fully realized until now is what enables those things to happen.

Quite simply, it is our people. I have seen countless examples this week of people coming together, putting their own needs aside, and working together across the University to find solutions to problems they never expected to face, and questions they never expected to have to answer.

Together, McMaster faculty, instructors, TAs and staff made sure that students will be able to complete their courses this term. The need to make such a significant shift at an unprecedented speed was a challenge successfully met and you have my deep appreciation.

While most of you are now working from home and finding new ways to get the job done, there are many others who need to be on campus to help students move out of residence and make sure those who remain have nutritious food and all of the health and other supports they need. Many of you are helping our hospitals take care of patients. UTS experts are keeping our systems going and cleaners and maintenance staff are keeping our campus safe. Others are making sure payroll runs and that the applications of students hoping to come to McMaster next year are still being managed.

While some researchers, graduate students and research staff are safely closing down research projects to support social distancing and the ability for additional staff to work remotely, others are leading the country in the battle to understand and fight COVID-19 on every front.

The pandemic is a reminder of the importance of research, evidence and facts. It reinforces that the students we train to work in healthcare, public services, business, public policy and other sectors are the people we all need to count on to do the right thing and to care for our communities and families.

Together we are meeting the challenge. But this is just the beginning.

We don’t know what will happen next or how long it will take to get through the pandemic. Getting back to normal is not going to happen quickly and what normal is will likely be redefined forever. Such uncertainty only adds to the stress and complexity we are all facing.

My commitment is that we will continue to make the best decisions we can, even in circumstances that are changing in ways and at a speed that would have been unimaginable just a short time ago.

I ask that you continue to support each other, take care of yourself and your family. Please remember that you are part of a broader community and that we all need to look out for each other, especially those who are most vulnerable in such difficult times.

My heartfelt and ongoing thanks to each of you for all that you contribute and for being an important member of the McMaster community.



David Farrar


“Time to take care of each other and our communities:” President’s letter

March 16, 2020


Dear Members of the McMaster community,

Let me begin by thanking everyone. The past week has not been easy and, as the level of uncertainty about COVID-19 has mounted, so too has the need for us to make decisions we never could have imagined making just days ago. That is true not just at the University but also for our families.

Today, the federal government announced additional measures to try to slow the pace and impact of the pandemic, including the Prime Minister telling Canadians that they should stay home. These measures are being undertaken for all the right reasons. If Canada can slow the pace of COVID-19 it can save lives. Hospitals and healthcare workers in other countries have been overwhelmed as case numbers soar and if there is a way that we can avoid that here, it is what needs to happen.

Social distancing measures requiring that as many of us as possible stay home and limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people, create new challenges for the university. McMaster will continue to be open but our focus will be on required services that protect health and safety, that help our students complete their term, and that support essential research.

This means that all areas should ensure that any employees who can work from home are able to do so. Supervisors will help to find ways that services can be maintained online or on the phone. We may not be able to deliver services in the way we are used to, but we can still achieve great things by adapting our approaches.

We are asking that students make their plans to move out of residence. The details will be shared with residence students shortly, including directions for anyone who needs special consideration to stay in residence for an extended period of time.

The details of McMaster’s plan for completing academic programs and course evaluations using alternate online arrangements continue to unfold, and faculty are beginning to share the new plans with students.

Research happens in every corner of the University and it is always a prime consideration.  The Vice-President (Research) and the Associate Deans are working together to develop guidance and business continuity plans which they will be sharing with the campus community.

I encourage everyone to focus on what we can do rather than on what we cannot do. How can we continue to help our students? How can we maintain a strong McMaster community that supports each other? How can we help our neighbours across campus or across the street from where we live?

People are understandably nervous and worried as our lives are being impacted in unsettling ways. But we are also caring and thoughtful and it is the time to show our determination to take care of each other and our communities.

This is not the time to worry about having perfect answers.  It is the time to work together in the best ways we can. Thank you to everyone for all of your extraordinary efforts to date and over the weeks to come.


David Farrar


A letter from our president

March 13, 2020


Dear Members of the McMaster community

These are unsettling times.  The spread of COVID-19 around the world and its arrival in our own region has brought McMaster and all other organizations to unchartered territory. As of today, the risk of catching the virus continues to remain low.

The University’s focus is always clearly on our students, faculty and staff.  And while the University has taken many measures to prepare and keep our community informed as the pandemic has unfolded, it is now time to take a more significant decision to suspend classes at McMaster.

McMaster in-person classes for undergraduate and graduate students will end at the end of day Friday March 13th and no in-person exams will be held at the end of this term.

Faculty members and instructors are asked to work with their Chairs, Directors and Deans to be prepared to communicate with students by Wednesday, March 18th   to let them know how the remainder of their courses will be managed and grades assessed so that they can complete their credits within the normal timeframe of the winter term. These solutions will vary from course to course.

Ensuring students finish their year, that those in their final year are able to graduate and reducing the stress students are under must be of paramount importance.

This is a stressful time for everyone. And these are difficult decisions.

We don’t underestimate the challenge it will be for instructors to find alternate ways to finish their course programs and for staff to develop and implement the changes that will be required. But I am confident that in these extraordinary times, extraordinary solutions will be found and the University will provide the support needed to help ensure that happens.

While this transition to on-line and other types of solutions occurs, the remainder of the University will remain open.  The overall number of people on campus will be reduced, but students will continue to have access to their residences, libraries will be available and our research enterprise, services (including food services), and offices will continue to function.

The University’s Crisis Management Team, which includes academic leaders and others from across McMaster, will continue to lead the University’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is more important than ever that you stay informed.  The University shares all of its information on the Daily News and McMaster’s dedicated COVID-19 website and through its social media channels. Departments and units are also sharing information specific to their areas. It is important that students, faculty and staff continue to share information and work together as the situation around COVID-19 continues to develop at an increasingly fast pace.

All discretionary events were cancelled as of Thursday, March 12th and we strongly encourage everyone at the University to avoid travel outside of Canada.

It is also incredibly important that together we ensure that McMaster continues to be an inclusive and safe University that respects all members of our community.

I want to thank all of you – staff students and faculty – for your commitment, your patience and your determination to strengthen the University as together we face the challenges before us.


David Farrar