Q&A with Dr. John Yoo

Photograph of Dr. John Yoo

From working on the phased in return to campus, meeting with departments and student groups, and getting the foundation established for the School’s next strategic plan – Dr. Yoo’s first six weeks as Dean have been busy.

We sat down with the Dean to check in and hear about what’s been occupying his days and his plans for the coming weeks and months.

You’ve now been in the role as Dean for six weeks, can you tell us about this time?

To be honest, it feels like it’s been a lot longer than six weeks.

I have been thinking about why that is.

Maybe it has seemed longer because of the current set of circumstances. This entire time, it has felt like that our School has been playing defense. I think most of us are hardwired to be driven. Hardwired that when things get tough and we are being backed into a corner, we tend to bear down and huddle together, to fight harder, work longer.

But this situation is so different in that way. It’s as if we have had to do exactly the opposite. Some of us are told to stay home, pause our research, stop seeing patients. And that has never been the way we have battled adversity.

I think that is why it feels like we have been playing defense this entire time. It gets tiring.

But that aside, I have been so impressed by faculty and staff. Their dedication to our academic mission and to the education of learners has been nothing short of inspiring. I feel for the research community, many of whom have had to press the pause button. But I love the fact that they are restless and hungry to return. Their passion for research shines through in their sense of urgency to return.

I am so glad that finally, after almost three months, I think we are now seeing some glimmers of light.

I’ve been keeping up to date on the great work many of you have been involved with – from research, policy development, great patient care and keeping the community informed about the pandemic – Schulich Medicine & Dentistry alumni seem to be making the news daily with their great work.

What is the plan for the School’s researchers and faculty to return to campus?

The key for a successful return is safety.

We are aligned with the phased return that the University has mapped out. We believe as a medical and dental school, we can be role models for a successful return, as we do have a bit of a leg up because our researchers are used to working with hazardous materials and infectious agents even during regular times and the critical importance of safety protocols and procedures is well known to us. But even before that, there are numerous safeguards in place including screening tools to ensure that people aren’t at risk. Testing, tracing and self-isolation when required will be clearly outlined with the help of our regional health authorities.

Outside the pandemic and the safe return of faculty, staff and learners, what are your next priorities?

Outside the planning for our return, I am taking the first weeks of my term getting to know individuals and groups face-to-face, understanding people’s goals, motivations, challenges, and overall, getting a feel for the hum and cadence of our rich and complex organization.

Concurrent to this, I have a number of key priorities. An important priority for me during the summer is to ensure that we have as great a curriculum for the fall term as we can possibly provide. I think the University’s President and Provost have been courageous in making the decision to open our campus to a student experience that Western is known for, at least as a hybrid model of delivery. We wholeheartedly support this and, especially as a professional school, experiential learning is integral to our curriculum. Developing a curriculum that is nimble enough to be provided either face-to-face or remotely places even greater challenge to our faculty. And they are rising to this challenge.

I also want to ensure that our researchers are supported, operational and successful.

In the medium term, we need to start laying the groundwork to begin our strategic plan. I think we are all ready for something beyond the present situation, something more forward thinking.

Last week, I released a statement to our School community responding to acts of racism that are pervasive in Canada and around the world. As researchers, health care providers and teachers, whose careers and lives are focused on making this world better, safer and healthier, we have a responsibility to actively engage in anti-racist work. We need to listen, to learn, to check in, to step in, and to use our voices to make change in our own environments and those around us each and every day.

Our student, faculty and staff leaders are working together and meeting to discuss how we can change as a School. And I will be holding a town hall in the coming weeks to further our listening and learning process.

With Homecoming going virtual and travel still limited, what are your plans for connecting with alumni?

I was very much looking forward to meeting our alumni during Homecoming Weekend. I attended last year, and really enjoyed the School’s events. This year, we will be focused on providing support to our classes so they have an opportunity to connect with one another. I know some groups are already planning virtual celebrations and I look forward to participating along with our alumni. I also hope to host a few virtual receptions, which we’ll kick off during Homecoming Weekend. During those conversations, I hope to have a chance to meet others and hear about their successes and ideas about the School.