How has your view of higher education changed after the COVID-19 pandemic?

As academia emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Waterloo Region Record asked recipients of four honorary doctorates from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University to offer their thoughts on how the pandemic has changed their perspective on the importance of higher education.

These are their answers:

The question: With the World Health Organization officially declaring an end to the global COVID-19 emergency, how have the last three years changed and shaped your views on the importance of higher education?

John Borrows

Dr.  John Borrows is a member of the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation in Ontario and is professor and Loveland Chair of Indigenous Law at the University of Toronto.  He is an internationally recognized scholar of Indigenous legal rights.  Borrows is an Officer of the Order of Canada.  He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Trudeau Fellow and a Killam Prize and Molson Prize recipient.  Borrows also received the Indigenous Peoples Counsel designation from the Indigenous Bar Association for honor and integrity in service to Indigenous peoples, the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in Law and Justice and the Governor General's Innovation Award.

COVID-19 has made students both more resilient and independent as learners, even as it has sapped energy from more synergistic and cooperative forms of learning. We must enhance student gains in seeking knowledge themselves, in accordance with their own aspirations, which also meet disciplinary and curricular requirements. As we do this, we must also help them understand and experience that all learning builds upon others’ insights. In the legal realm, judgment is best exercised by taking account of different angles of vision. Learning how to exercise sound judgment is a social good. If judgment is to be refined and meet broader needs it must be learned and practiced in diverse classroom settings and in other dynamic group contexts.

Rola Dagher

Rola Dagher, a leading figure in the Canadian technology sector, has made it her mission to empower those around her.  Immigrating to Canada from war-torn Lebanon with an infant in the 1990s, Dagher worked as a retail salesclerk before becoming the president of Cisco Systems Canada and currently as Dell Technologies' global channel chief.  Rola sees diversity as the foundation for building a high-performance workforce and is a vanguard of inclusive excellence.  Dagher has been named a WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada, the Women in Communications and Technology (WCT) Woman of the Year and is an RBC Top 25 Canadian Immigrant Award winner.

The past three years, marked by the global COVID-19 emergency, have significantly influenced and shaped the importance of higher education. The pandemic forced educational institutions to adapt rapidly, leading to the widespread adoption of online learning and highlighting the need for flexibility and technological integration in education. It also revealed the existing disparities in access to education, emphasizing the importance of equity and inclusivity in higher education. The interdisciplinary collaboration among various fields to address the crisis underscored the significance of multidisciplinary approaches in finding solutions to complex problems. Furthermore, the pandemic prompted a re-evaluation of priorities, emphasizing the long-term consequences of neglecting investments in education and research. Overall, these experiences have reinforced the vital role of higher education in fostering adaptability, equity, collaboration, and resilience, and the need to prioritize and support educational institutions to drive progress and social development.

Trevor Hastie

Dr.  Trevor Hastie is John A. Overdeck Professor of Mathematical Sciences at Stanford University and a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences.  He has made seminal contributions to statistical computing, modeling, and machine learning, with over 200 research articles and six books.  He helped develop the statistical modeling environment behind the R computing system that we all use today, invented or co-invented many important tools in modern statistics and authored numerous highly acclaimed statistical software.  Having guided several generations of statisticians and data scientists with his work, Hastie is one of the most influential statisticians of our time.

Education helps you question what you hear and read. In many countries, and especially the USA, the social networks were flooded with amateur and anti-science opinions and advice. This spanned all levels of society, and shockingly included wild and irresponsible opinions from the highest level of government. Sadly this led to widespread COVID denial and anti-vax sentiment. Of the roughly one million deaths in the USA by May 2022, it is estimated that because of vaccines and mask denial, one third were preventable (333,000 lives, NPR report, May 17, 2022). Higher education helps society make informed decisions; it gives individuals the ability to be selective in what they read, and arms them with a language to counter false information with rational reasoning.

Gary Lipinski

As retired president of the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO), Gary Lipinski made a transformational impact on Ontario-Métis relations by successfully negotiating the MNO?Ontario Framework Agreement.  In stark contrast to generations of government policies that denied the very existence of Ontario Métis, the agreement recognizes the unique identity, history, culture and rights of Ontario Métis communities.  The agreement led to similar agreements with other government ministries, agencies and post-secondary institutions.  Lipinski retired in 2016 after two decades of service at the MNO, leaving a legacy of advocacy that improved quality of life for Métis people.

The COVID-19 outbreak was and should be a warning shot for us as a civilization and humanity. The world saw first-hand just how vulnerable we all are to new borne diseases that can quickly spread across the world. It also gave us the opportunity to witness first-hand the importance of those seeking higher education to do research and problem solving for emerging issues that arise — in this case, to develop a vaccination to counter COVID-19. We also witnessed the demand and strain put on our health care systems and the urgency to support more health care professionals and first responders. The ability of our education systems to adapt to changing circumstances and realities was and is paramount to ensuring student success and that societies’ needs are met. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the pandemic also brought into focus the often-underappreciated workforce that keeps our societies functioning; we are all beneficiaries of the divisions of labor and tasks that keep our human existence advancing. Through these collective contributions, the next generation will continue to thrive.

Wilfrid Laurier University honorary doctorate recipients also include: global Indigenous rights advocate Wilton Littlechild, 11-time national boxing champion and Olympian Mandy Bujold, opera singer Jane Archibald and global teaching prize winner Maggie MacDonnell.

University of Waterloo honorary doctorates also include: former dean at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering Cristina Amon, former management sciences engineering professor John Buzacott, Canadian theater artist and director Seana Bridget McKenna, clinical and research psychologist Debra Pepler, mathematician Arlie Petters, hydrogeology and environmental engineering professor Yanxin Wang and medical microbiologist Mark Willcox.


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.
Tags: ,