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Dr. Michael Benarroch is the 12th president of the University of Manitoba

Photo Credit: Ms. Alia Youssef

Message from Dr. Michael Benarroch, UM president and vice-chancellor

August 5, 2020 — 

Hi everyone.

I don’t think it’s possible to open a communication these days without recognizing that, amid the triumphs and hopes inspired by flattened curves and progress in the development of a COVID vaccine, families here in Canada and around the globe are losing loved ones to the virus every day.

As has often been said, but remains true: we’re all in this together. We’ll create our “new normal” together. And only by helping one another can we succeed in the face of this pandemic.

I’d like to thank all faculty and staff who have accommodated their work to the changes brought upon by the new reality, with a special thank you to those who were deemed essential to the continued operation of our campuses.

I am privileged to become the twelfth president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba, though my first month has looked much different than I had imagined.

Zoom meetings. Social distancing. Empty lecture theatres.

In fact, when I interviewed for the job, and outlined my ideas about guiding the University of Manitoba into the next decade, COVID-19 didn’t even exist!

But as the days of July passed, and I met with more and more of you, listening as you gave voice to your aspirations for the future of this university, I came to realize that in many ways my first days with you were exactly what I might have expected.

Because they have been all about making connections. And hearing from people who care deeply and know much about delivering on the mission of this university.

I was particularly moved that among my very first tasks was voicing with colleagues and students the meaningful words to the university’s territorial acknowledgement, on a video welcoming first year students to our new site customized especially for them, UM Commons. I was honoured to be able to speak the phrase: “in partnership with Indigenous communities.”

Five words that will serve this university well as we navigate our future. Five words that I’m personally committed to. 

As a core value, I believe in transparency. As often as possible, I intend to communicate with you, letting you know what I’ve been doing, what I’ve heard, what I’m thinking.

As I said, this first month has been all about listening. And taking notes. Literally. Because I’m listening to a lot of you. In groups and one on one. To students. To members of Senate and the Board of Governors. To campus leaders (administration, union and other). To faculty and staff. To alumni. To donors and friends. To partners. To government.

In our discussions, I’m hearing about the amazing successes of this university. Like the fact that every one of our respiratory therapy grads has found a job this year, and over the last two years, the Children’s Hospital has hired 20 respiratory therapy grads.

There are so many more stories like that, each one demonstrating the narrative arc that connects our classrooms, laboratories and studios with the workplace, no matter what the sector, whether business, cultural or not-for-profit.

I’m also hearing from you about how important it is that we live up to our name and truly be a university for all of Manitoba. We belong to the diverse and vital North, Interlake, Southeast, and Prairie Mountain West regions as much as to the dynamic area prescribed by Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway.

Social distancing and travel guidelines permitting, I look forward to visiting communities across this vast province to see the University of Manitoba in action. 

We are the drivers of economic, social and cultural vibrancy. Our research and innovation, our cultural and scholarly contributions, and our graduates help make Manitoba all it can be.

That’s a narrative we can own proudly and share with our partners, including government.

I have met and will continue to meet with people representing all four core priorities of this university:

  • Indigenous engagement that serves Indigenous values and brings Indigenous ways of knowing and learning into the academy;
  • internal processes facilitating a fulfilling student experience and a collegial and respectful work and learning environment;
  • research and scholarly work that underpin the economy and inspire cultural transformation; and:
  • external relations that build a supportive sense of community among alumni, donors and friends of the university.

Just this afternoon I met again with and heard from our academic and student colleagues on Senate, while sharing with them what I could about how the university plans to operate as it opens for the fall term next month. 

Challenges can become opportunities. The technology we’ve now turned to out of necessity can actually help us meet our loftiest goals. Used creatively, remote learning can open up new connections for our students, enriching their experience. Virtual public consultation platforms can democratize engagement and governance.

Keep sharing your ideas.

I look forward to meeting with you. And I’ll be listening closely to what you have to say.

Because there’s a lot to learn.

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