GeoPlan 2021 Message from Chair Richard DiFrancesco

June 30, 2021 by Professor Richard DiFrancesco

Welcome to the 2020-2021 edition of GeoPlan. This has been a year (and a half) that will not soon be forgotten. On March 16, 2020, Business Officer Maria Wowk and I locked the doors to the department, thinking that we would likely be working remotely for a month at most. At that time, all undergraduate and graduate courses were required to pivot to a virtual format, which was quite jarring given that most of our courses had not been designed to operate virtually. Labs and assignments which required in-person and collaborative (face-to-face) work were in play and in-person final exams were on the horizon. The extent of the disruption cannot be overstated.

As I write this now, we are coming out of the third (and hopefully final) wave of the pandemic and things are, dare I say, looking somewhat optimistic for at least a guarded return to in-person teaching and learning in the Fall of 2021. Throughout all of this, the work of the department in terms of teaching, learning, and administration has taken place virtually. To name but a few significant accomplishments for the past year, our undergraduate programs (very successfully) underwent an interim review, the Master of Science in Planning Program underwent an exhaustive internal review (lead by the Director of the Program, Professor Katharine Rankin), and two searches for new faculty were conducted (one for an Environmental Planner and one for a Full-Professor working in Black/Economic Geography). Thanks to the dedicated hard work of many, both in and out of our department, all of this was conducted with relatively few missteps despite the incredible challenges the pandemic has had for many in our community. This is not intended to downplay the reality that the pandemic has been incredibly challenging (and indeed physically threatening) for many in our community. As we move on to the Fall of 2021, our hopes are high that we can return to ‘normal’ and enjoy our beautiful downtown campus and all the amenities it affords.

While the pandemic has certainly impacted university operations as alluded to above, it has also kept us from honouring those who have left the department as recent graduates or retirees without the normal ‘pomp and circumstance’ that has been our custom. In particular, one of our long-serving colleagues and former Chair, Professor Virginia Maclaren, is retiring as of June 30, 2021 after decades of service in the Department of Geography & Planning. I would like to offer Virginia a heartfelt congratulations on her retirement and say ‘thank you’ for her many years of dedicated service. We wish you the very best in your retirement.

It is also worth noting that two graduating classes (at the undergraduate and graduate levels) have also graduated without the benefit of in-person convocation ceremonies or departmental celebrations. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate all graduates of the Department of Geography & Planning over this troubled period and to say that I hope we can make up for this in the future somehow.

One particularly significant outcome of the pandemic is how it has foregrounded issues relating to inequity (social, economic, racial, political) on the national and international stages. Geographers and Planners have always been incredibly active in these spaces and our department continues to strive to address these inequities both from within and out in the world. It is gratifying and exciting to see the work of our students and faculty gain appreciation among broader audiences for its societal value, and we hope to support and foster research and initiatives that strive for better futures.

In closing, I would like to thank all staff, faculty and students of the Department of Geography & Planning, and indeed its active alumni, for helping work through this very challenging time. Despite many challenges and much uncertainty, we worked together and accomplished much. Here’s to a ‘normal’ in-person 2021-22 academic year!