Message from President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs - 8 April 2020

08 Apr 2020
UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ian Jacobs

Dear colleagues

These are unprecedented, anxious times. The pandemic is affecting our lives in ways we had never imagined. We are all having to make difficult decisions about how we care for our loved ones, how we do our jobs, how we take care of ourselves – how we live. 

As I have said in the video that accompanies this message, each of us carries a different burden in this pivotal period of global history. As we challenge our assumptions about what makes us truly happy, for the vast majority, human connection is the answer. 

I have been cheered by the many stories and pictures of working from home shared on our social media and internal channels. It is great to see people embracing technology as a way of keeping connected to each other at such a difficult time. I have certainly enjoyed seeing the bustle of loved ones – human and furry – in the background (and occasionally the foreground) on Teams and Zoom over the past couple of weeks.

Our staff are responding to the pandemic with care and compassion and with the innovation and resilience that have been the hallmark of UNSW during our 70-year history. My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to all.

Though we are scattered across various locations, the work of our University continues. I’d like to share with you just a small sample of our achievements over the past few weeks. I encourage you to take some time out to browse our Newsroom to help stay connected to the tremendous work being delivered by our community, even at this extraordinary time.

International Universities Climate Alliance launched
It’s challenging to think beyond COVID-19 at present, but there are other vitally important areas that deserve our ongoing attention. Climate change is one of these. And that is why last week we pressed ahead with launching the International Universities Climate Alliance. Under UNSW’s leadership, the IUCA brings together 40 of the world’s top climate change research universities to give leaders and policymakers access to some of the world’s best researchers and research teams devoted to solving this existential challenge. Scientia Professor Matthew England and I introduced the IUCA in a piece in Times Higher Education last week. We highlighted the importance of continuing to drive efforts to mitigate climate change. Congratulations to everyone who has worked to get this powerful alliance up and running. 

Learning and teaching remotely during COVID-19
The agility with which you managed to move courses online at the end of last month was extraordinary. As was the rapid creation of two resource-rich websites – one for students and another for educators – to support our people in the new learning and teaching environment. Thank you to Professor Rorden Wilkinson, PVC (Education and Student Experience), and his team for these tremendous resources. The move to online learning will be an opportunity for UNSW to meet burgeoning global demand for tertiary education.

And as we acknowledge the commitment of our educators, my congratulations to Associate Professor Marina Harvey, Director of Academic Development Services, who was on Friday elected President of the Council of Australasian University Leaders in Learning and Teaching (CAULLT). 

Update on Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor promotions process
My best wishes to all who are considering or have submitted applications for Senior Lecturer and Associate Professor for 2020. Many of the resources designed to support your application process have now been made available online, given our physical distancing requirements. Please do read this update about the promotions process and keep an eye on the HR Hub for further information. 

Team of experts seconded to NSW Health
UNSW has provided a team of 13 world-class research and project experts from the Kirby Institute and the School of Public Health and Community Medicine to work directly with NSW Health on the COVID-19 response. The team’s wealth of knowledge in infectious disease outbreaks and their spirit of service are vital in the global fight against the virus. My sincere thanks for your generosity in giving your expertise where it is critically needed.

Transgender Day of Visibility
At times of uncertainty, the needs of those with diverse backgrounds can be misunderstood or not considered. To mark International Transgender Day of Visibility on 31 March, our Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion spoke with UNSW staff member Eloise Brook and student Axel-Nathaniel Rose about the importance of health care access for the trans and gender-diverse community during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Light Rail’s Kingsford Line opened
In what will be a welcome way for us to reconnect with colleagues and campus when we’re able to come together after the pandemic, the L3 Kingsford Line of the Sydney Light Rail opened on Friday. This new line includes the UNSW Anzac Parade stop near the entrance to the University Mall. I look forward to making a trip on the new line when we’re back on campus. If you are at campus or using the Light Rail, please stay safe by obeying the lights and being attentive when walking near the rails and the stops at UNSW Anzac Parade and UNSW High Street. 

UNSOMNIA 2020 expressions of interest
Expressions of interest are open for academics who would like to be part of this year’s UNSOMNIA line-up, the fast-paced lecture series presented by our Grand Challenges Program and the Centre for Ideas. In these difficult times, UNSOMNIA 2020 will ask the poignant and thought-provoking question: ‘What can we learn while we are apart?’ I encourage you to ponder this question – and consider making your pitch to be included in the program.

In December 2016 I had the opportunity to give a presentation at UNSOMNIA. My 11 fellow presenters and I addressed the question ‘What keeps you up at night?’ I spoke about the role of the 21st Century university: that we must be servants of society, not ivory towers. And if asked that same question today, in these unprecedented times, I would reiterate that same idea – because at UNSW we are seeing some of the best work that universities can do at times of crisis and global need. Experts from across our University are making significant contributions to public discourse as COVID-19 drives our priorities and demands our energy. I feel privileged to lead a university in which serving our community is a value so tightly held. 

My thanks to all in our community for your contributions to the work of UNSW and my very, very best wishes to you and your loved ones for the Easter break.

Take care and stay well.