Dear CLASS Colleagues,
The big news, as you have heard by now, is that we will continue online instruction through the end of the semester. Commencement has been postponed and all summer study abroad trips have been canceled. I don’t think that is a surprise to any of us. We’ve been reading the news and thinking about it; some of us have been quietly planning for it. But it was still news that hit me hard as the slow-moving visceral punch finally arrived. I’ve had precious few interactions with students, but I’m not sure they have come anywhere close to wrapping their heads around how they are going to get to the end of the semester. I think it’s safe to say that we are all struggling to balance work, life, and going online, and we are far more experienced. I cannot emphasize enough how flexible and supportive we are going to have to be with the students.
This flexibility and supportiveness are going to have to extend to ourselves as we stretch to a full semester. We must complete our courses in an emergency distance mode. We are all starting in different places. For some, that might be having students read articles and email reactions papers. For others, there might be elaborate online activities. We just need to get there. Please allow me to mention again: asynchronous is your friend and your students’ friend. All of us our struggling with the multiple demands of social distancing, caring for family, especially aged relatives, and children who are no longer in school or daycare, and a host of other issues. Our students have all these challenges, plus fiscal challenges we do not. Some of our students are hurrying to earn money before the jobs they work at disappear; some of them are sharing computers with other siblings at home; some of them have terrible connections. It’s just not a good time to require students to be in a certain place at a certain time. Please reassure you students again and again that we will be grading in a fashion that reflects the crisis. Many are disproportionately worried about this. Obviously, we are not going to give out free “A’s”, but they need to hear that our standards will match our collective reality right now. And do check in with them in some manner. Some of them are struggling to know how to get through this.
I do not have a list of details for today’s message, as I am sure everyone has more than enough to keep track. We are archiving my earlier messages here on the college website (but be aware the rules keep changing, so old news is just that, old news). Also we are putting together a Critical Engagements COVID-19 page
. This page contains some interesting material with more to come, including the announcement of Liberal Arts 397D: Perspectives on Pandemics. This is a 1-credit pop-up course offered online April 6-May 8 and featuring faculty from across campus who will offer short modules on the history, sociology, epidemiology, economics, politics, arts, and science of public health crises like COVID-19. Please let your students know about this opportunity.
I will share results from our Remote Work Environment Survey early next week, but one preview and solution. Some people need microphones/headsets. Do not hesitate to acquire these. Work with your OPs as needed, and move quickly; they are becoming scarcer. Everyone in your online meetings and classes will appreciate your investment.
My friend Ryan Taylor, cowboy-philosopher, pointed me to Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac this morning. He was talking about snowed in North Dakota ranch drives, but my mind turned to viruses. I’ll let you take from the passage what you will. Stay safe, take care of yourself, your family, friends and neighbors, and remember to play the long game.
There are degrees and kinds of solitude. An island in a lake has one kind; but lakes have boats, and there is always the chance that one might land to pay you a visit. A peak in the clouds has another kind; but most peaks have trails, and trails have tourists. I know of no solitude so secure as one guarded by a spring flood; nor do the geese, who have seen more kinds and degrees of aloneness that I have.
So we sit on our hill beside a new-blown pasque, and watch the geese go-by. I see our road dipping gently into the waters, and I conclude (with inner glee but exterior detachment) that the question of traffic, in or out, is for the day at least, debatable only among the carp.
Richard Rothaus, Dean