MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Here we are at the first anniversary of the
COVID-19 pandemic, with our lives completely changed, with all of us having made great sacrifices in our personal, professional and family lives which turned topsy-turvy as we are forced to be confined to our homes, out of our normal routines for such a long time . . . This past year was surely a challenging period on many fronts for all of our community. Last year around this time, I continued my practice of monthly newsletters, in spite of the pandemic because first I did not wish to stop my communication with you and second, I wanted to make sure that our experience of that time, of that heretofore inconceivable and incredible period, is properly recorded in time, for future reference.
March 11, 2020, the date when the first official case was announced in Turkey marks a highly notable event upon which we should reflect on the time passed, new learnings, experiences and whether there indeed were opportunities for growth and renewal.
This pandemic has given us a lot of food for thought, while forcing us to work differently, to change our ways fast and to adapt quickly. Even though I do somewhat agree with the widely shared perspective of how well we learned to work, educate, learn, study and almost do everything online during this time, this online modality can only be temporary and cannot replace our face-to-face interactions. It is true that many of us work from home but with our children also at home, we cannot possibly be 100% productive as we have so many interruptions throughout the day. We have seen the possibilities and various ways of how we can make the workplace more flexible, and as in online education, technology may allow us to come up with tools to make our future lives more efficient, more agile and more flexible, but I believe this modality may never replace the actual one-to-one and face-to-face interactions in the workplace.
As we are well into our third academic semester in this online format, I recall being more than thrilled to have all of our 703 courses online at the end of March of 2020 and I continue to be very proud of our faculty who work diligently to continue teaching and our students who are putting on their best efforts to learn. We have made an immense investment, enabling state-of-the-art video recording technology in all of our classrooms and learning spaces to further strengthen our infrastructure and capabilities in real-time learning modalities and to ensure academic readiness for flexible hybrid teaching and learning. With this new investment, we not only aim to provide the best possible educational experience for our students and faculty while implementing and abiding by public health and safety protocols for all our community, but we are also well prepared for a kind of university education that is as close to the intergenerational rendezvous experience as possible.
We were personally confined to our homes during most of the past year. I would like to reflect upon my sentiments from last year, where I urged all of you to take advantage of this time to catch up on unfinished projects, research, read books you always wanted to read but had no time, pick up on different areas of interest and see what others are saying, sharing and more importantly, I had hoped that you all spent some quality time with your loved ones, even though some might be far away or need to stay away due to their age. My wish for all of you is that you were able to make use of this period by doing something different that was satisfactory and meaningful. When we return to our regular routines, this time of heightened awareness and reflection shall definitely be helpful.
The origin of the word 'pandemic' comes from Greek, with pan meaning all and demos the people, so the word means pertaining to all people. Before COVID-19, even though we have had many pandemics, none had had the effect such as this one in the modern age. We are thus simultaneously reminded of our fragility, vulnerability as a species and also our resilience, our ability to handle a crisis collectively. You only really know how prepared you are when confronted with a real crisis. The world was surely not ready for COVID-19; however, as I have said many times, research is and has been the way out of this adversity, with recent fast-tracked vaccinations and very promising drug results from many pharmaceuticals. Had it not been for years of investment in research and science, both financial and man hours, solutions could not have emerged this swiftly. Last year and in the ensuing months, if someone had told us that there would be vaccines available throughout the world in less than a year, none of us would have believed it possible. We still have ways to go but our belief in research and science have exponentially increased. Our very own faculty, students and staff have been doing amazing work on multiple research efforts, so far 42 projects and counting, directly targeting the COVID-19 problems and the fact that our laboratories at the Rumelifeneri Campus and the Koç University Hospital are equipped with state-of-the-art devices also give us an advantage in terms of rapidly making headway on COVID-19 research. Establishment of the Koç University İş Bank Research Center for Infectious Diseases (KUIS CID) in August of 2020 could not have been more timely, paving the way for COVID-19 research as evidenced by the Center's expertise and know-how, which was very much on display at the Symposium held on March 12th, ‘The First Year of the Pandemic and Beyond’.
I was also delighted to continue sharing my thoughts on Research and Development on different occasions, albeit via online means this month. We had a very productive meeting discussing various collaboration opportunities with İKMİB Chemical Technology Center, which was followed by a Summit organized by İKMİB. I talked about how Industry-University cooperation is a long-term journey that should be pursued by being cognizant of its benefits for all parties involved and how in thinking about Research & Development (R&D), it is important to realize that ‘Research’ is the pursuit of the ‘unknown unknowns’ while ‘Development’ is the pursuit of the ‘known unknowns’. I had a chance to share these views at my meeting with the executives of the Chamber of Businessman from Bursa (BUSİAD), which like my previous encounter, was received enthusiastically.
As usual in these monthly Newsletters, I would like to summarize what I have been up to. March traditionally had always been quite a busy month for all of our community, filling my calendar with faculty and student events where I got to listen to wonderful speakers share their knowledge, enjoy various organizations and activities around our campus. This year, I am very glad to see that it was not that different, again a good sign of maybe returning back to normal. The month of March began with quite a meaningful day, International Women's Day, celebrated globally on March 8th. As an individual who believes that countries and societies that do not effectively engage their women in education, economy, business and government are destined to compete in the global environment with one hand tied behind their back, I cannot emphasize enough my gratitude to all women on this important and meaningful day. We should all realize that those who have been most affected by the COVID-19 disaster that has gripped the entire planet for a year, have been our hundreds of female employees and hundreds of millions of working women around the world, who have had to sacrifice so much at home and at work, additionally undertaking duties as caretakers and teachers for their children who could not go to school while remotely doing their regular jobs in the best way possible.
As I note that one of the most important factors of our success as an institution lies in the fact that 40% of our academic staff and more than half of our academic and administrative senior management are women at our university, I wholeheartedly congratulate all of our women employees and students. While we celebrate this important day together, let all men and women of us embrace with love and respect in order to build the best tomorrows for our children and grandchildren.
This important day was also crowned this year with a very important initiative, another collaboration with İş Bank and KOÇKAM, Koç University Center for Women & Gender Studies. A new İş Bank fund (İş'te Kadın), with the strategic support of KOÇKAM, is now established to create a more equal and productive business world, to strengthen women's employment and presence in business life. A few of us had a chance to attend the Gong Ceremony where the fund was formally launched, held at Borsa İstanbul (İstanbul Stock Exchange), which was surely a joyous event and the beginning of another fruitful collaboration with İş Bank, after our Research Centers for Artificial Intelligence and Infectious Diseases.
I am also quite encouraged to see our fundraising activities for Anatolian Scholarships continue at full speed in the course of my virtual quest and visits around Turkey.
Every year I congratulate our doctors on National Doctor's Day, celebrated on
March 14th in Turkey. This past year, our healthcare professionals made the greatest sacrifice of all and worked with all their might for our well-being and recovery as well as for our relatives and loved ones at the expense of their own lives, and they still continue to work at the forefront. We cannot thank them enough . . .
I would like to congratulate first and foremost, our Koç University Hospital doctors, nurses and other medical staff and our own School of Medicine students along with all healthcare professionals who work tirelessly day and night all across Turkey and around the world. I would also reflect on the important link between doctors and March 18th, celebrated as the Dardanelles Victory in our country. Many doctors who fought at that battle more than a century ago lost their lives; indeed generations were lost on both sides in that unfortunate attack to the very heart of Turkish soul by the imperial powers to be of the time.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in his 1934 tribute to the Anzac Mothers, uttered these unforgettable words: “Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore, rest in peace. To us, there is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets who lie side by side. Mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons now lie in our bosom and are in peace. After losing their lives on this land, they have become our sons.”
The Battle of the Dardanelles, where thousands of young lives perished, is undoubtedly an event that has a very important place in world history. It not only symbolizes a turning point for the Republic of Turkey during which the first sprouts of its foundation were laid, it has also changed the course of World War I and the fate of many countries.
The memory of thousands of heroes who sacrificed their lives 106 years ago for the birth of our beautiful nation is passed on from generation to generation in our hearts and is never to be forgotten. While we are grateful to the Anafartalar (The Dardanelles) hero Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his comrades for this historical victory, we always remember those who sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms afforded to us by our precious Republic.
Alas, let us not forget then that this pandemic facing us today and other crises that may come our way in the future shall surely pass and I do believe that we shall come out of this period as a stronger institution than ever before.
As I wish all of you a great Spring Semester, please continue to be cautious, be healthy, and do take care of yourselves and your families. I am looking forward to the days and times when this COVID-19 hiatus may be over so we can return back to face-to-face teaching, learning, working and interacting with one another on our beautiful campus.
My best wishes and regards to you all,
Umran S. Inan