Updated: Mar 24
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy (1980)
This lyric keeps popping up on my news feeds, social media platforms, and playlists. At first, I smiled wryly. “If you only knew, John.” And then I started to think about what this means beyond a snappy meme or a clever tweet. Upon further reflection, I believe this lyric resonates with the cultural zeitgeist– the “spirit of the times” – as we grapple with what has just happened to our “best laid plans” (to quote another poet) in the past 18 months.
As we find ourselves in the final throes of a global pandemic, John Lennon’s lyric illuminates the importance of vision (over plans), mission (over metrics), and values (over deadlines). Don’t get me wrong: a strategic plan is a great road map, metrics are helpful signposts, and deadlines ensure we arrive on time.
Until the road becomes unfamiliar.
Until the path is uncharted.
Until time is not no longer ours to control.
Over the past year hope has sometimes been hard to locate – and plans have been even harder to make. As Renecca Solnit writes,
“Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. At the beginning of his massive 1930s treatise on hope, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch wrote, ‘The work of this emotion requires people who throw themselves actively into what is becoming, to which they themselves belong.’ To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.” (Hope in the Dark, 2004).
Our hope has been tested because our future plans were cancelled – almost overnight. We were left with a present – according to Solnit – that might be untenable thanks to the significant disruption to our plans, actions, and strategic directions.
At the same time, hope has also propelled us into the future and asked us to imagine a different world. As we present the Year-End Report (2020 – 2021) and reflect on the past year, turning this philosophical lens back on ourselves helps to illuminate what we’ve done while making space for what we’ve lost and what we’ve learned.
When I review the five-year strategic plan for the Maple League (2018 – 2023), I see that our “best laid plans of mice and men [sic]” are grounded in hope: hope that collaboration takes us farther than competition; hope that a student-centred approach creates more inclusive and diverse learning spaces; hope that sharing research advances our thinking; and hope that we have the courage to think and see differently.
The Maple League is – at its heart – founded on the belief that together we can move beyond the “way it has always been” into new spaces where universities can be on the frontline of social and economic renewal.
Our vision, mission, and values have been tested – and have endured. Because we led with values – collaboration, student experiences, resilience, and community engagement with global citizenship – we fulfilled (and in many cases exceeded) the goals we designed in our plans, metrics, and deadlines. This year,
– We secured $481, 852 in external funding from five different funding sources.
– We supported $30,000+ in Tri-Council funding with two successful SSHRC grants.
– We applied for $1+ million in external funding from institutes and think tanks.
– We facilitated two successful nominations for 3M National Teaching Fellows.
– We mentored three successful 3M National Student Fellows.
– We built a Virtual Maple League Teaching and Learning Centre, with 582 participants from 46 universities and colleges.
– We stewarded 15 communities of practice and inter-connected hubs
At a time where a number of organizations hunkered down to weather the storm, we have opened ourselves up to doing things differently, whether that is sharing courses across universities, investing in inclusive high impact practices, leading conversations in quality undergraduate education, and creating virtual spaces that foster innovation not just at individual institutions but across the post-secondary sector.
We’ve accomplished a lot, but we’ve learned more – about ourselves, each other, and what is possible when we are busy making other plans.
— Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities