Message from the President: End of Year Reflections

Dear Campus Community,

Welcome to my last campus update of 2020. As I thought about writing to you, I wondered how to capture the past 12 months, whether that was even possible or desirable. This year has been one where we have seen the impacts of a global pandemic, social injustice, national disharmony, a chaotic national election and horrible losses felt by so many. I need to acknowledge these because they are very real and painful—however that isn’t what I want to write about today. Those do not fully define 2020 because they do not define us, our purpose, and our humanity.

Instead, I want to write about what truly defines who and what we are as a people, a country, and a community dedicated to education, to equity and justice, and to making lasting change to better our world. It’s not what happened, but how we responded that really defines 2020. We stayed focused on solutions, on planning and on our shared desire to move forward. 

What we did together—what we continue to do every day together—is nothing short of phenomenal. Some things simply cannot be done until there are no other alternatives left. That defines March for me. As an entire community we stayed focused on our mission of education. We persevered and we overcame the impossible with resolve, grace, and enormous compassion. We all learned a lot and we learned it quickly. We learned from each other and from our friends in places near and far. We learned about teaching and learning in a virtual world, and we also learned how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. I learned words like “fomite” and “reactogenicity”—words I would love to forget as soon as possible. And we learned how to be our most creative and our most collaborative selves.

We all learned more about social justice, equity, and inclusion in 2020. We had serious conversations about the murders of black men and women that we all witnessed. We attacked the digital divide in ways that have been too long in coming. We reached out to rural communities to help them keep their students in school and move toward the degrees that will be important drivers of recovery in those communities and throughout our region. We didn’t do it perfectly, I know that I made mistakes. But we learned to talk to one another and we learned about each other and our different positions and biases. And what we learned about ourselves and each other in 2020 are things that will serve us well in 2021 and beyond as we continue all of the work that we have to do in and out of the classroom.

We will come back in January more focused and more resilient than we were in 2020. We can come back knowing for sure that we can do this for a little bit longer while we wait for our turn to roll up a sleeve and get vaccinated. When you see me on campus, I will still mask up and stay socially distant from you as I welcome you back or say hello for the first time, and I know that you will too. We can come back prepared to continue or maybe complete the great things that we somehow managed to start in 2020. This winter we will continue with our “online first, max flex” approach. It will be a different set of face-to-face opportunities on our campuses, but the principles that have served us well will remain.

Let’s look to the fall and the hope that we can be much more active on our campuses with students and faculty safely back in classrooms, labs, studios, recital halls, theaters, practice fields and courts, and in the mall and PUB. There is a task force led out of my office that is working with every corner of campus to create a master “reopening” plan. When it is safe, we will move quickly toward that. As you can no doubt imagine, it is an enormously complicated thing to “reopen” a university as we exit a pandemic, but we are committed to trying if public health and safety allow. As that planning continues, I will be providing an update on or near the 21st of each month. Additional opportunities for conversation and communication will be through a town hall that I am hosting on Jan. 13 and a special COVID town hall with two of our local public health experts on Jan. 21, 2021. More details on both events will be shared in the near future.

Thank you for what you did in 2020. Thank you even more for what we are going to do together in 2021.

Happy holidays to you and your loved ones,

David May

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