Opinion: Research universities recognize unique responsibility to fight spread of pandemic

April 30, 2020

Op-ed published in The Vancouver Sun
Research Universities’ Council of British Columbia 

The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our society and its institutions as few other events have. As the presidents of B.C.’s research universities, we join all Canadians in expressing our gratitude to everyone who is sacrificing to keep the most important functions of society working in very difficult circumstances, from frontline health providers in our hospitals to grocery store workers stocking our shelves. They are the quiet heroes in the daily effort to defeat COVID-19.

As leaders of institutions that touch the lives of tens of thousands of British Columbians and possess enormous research capacity, we also understand our unique responsibility to assist in stopping the pandemic’s spread and to help the wider community cope with its effects, particularly on our most vulnerable fellow citizens.

We are working hard in the race to develop a vaccine and therapeutic agents. We are joining forces with government, health authorities, the private sector and civil society on a wide range of projects, including those that help inform the public health response, stop the spread of misinformation, and tackle health equipment shortages. Our researchers are working on initiatives that will help us better understand and address the mental and physical impacts of social isolation and distancing. And we are strengthening our engagement with the communities we serve.

We are also very mindful of the impact the pandemic is having on those in the post-secondary community whose lives have been turned upside down. Faculty and staff have put in long hours to keep our institutions open and serving the community. We are extremely grateful to them. And we are doing everything we can to help students who face financial hardship and an uncertain future. Student loan relief and expanded financial supports offered by the provincial and federal governments make a big difference for those struggling to pay the bills and start careers in the most difficult job market in generations.

This work is part of a national mobilization not seen since the Second World War. In that effort, we are fortunate to live in a country where governments make decisions based on evidence, where we have strong public institutions, and where there is a resilient sense of national belonging and purpose. Canadians understand and act on the obligations we have to each other. Whether that means isolating to protect others, teaching students online, or working through the night in our hospitals to save lives, every one of us has an important role to play.

It is difficult for any of us to gain perspective in the middle of a storm. And there are many challenges yet to overcome. But we do know this: Defeating the pandemic will take everyone working toward a common end. As public institutions anchored in communities around the province, B.C.’s research universities share in that work. And we are bringing everything we have to bear to support this unprecedented national mobilization of resources and people. Because at the end of the day, we share a common destiny. Together, we will get though the pandemic a stronger and more resilient province and country.


Santa Ono is president of the University of B.C. and chair of the Research Universities’ Council of B.C.; Andrew Petter is president of Simon Fraser University; Jamie Cassels is president of the University of Victoria; Geoffrey Payne is interim president at the University of Northern B.C.; Philip Steenkamp is president of Royal Roads University; Brett Fairbairn is president of Thompson Rivers University; Max Blouw is president of the Research Universities’ Council of B.C.