Colleagues,

We have arrived at the end of what has been a most challenging semester. I hope everyone has found a way to mark our successes. All the departments and programs have celebrated their students in a variety of fashions from online videos, to WebEx get-togethers, to no doubt an assortment of wonderful ways I am unaware of, and I know the students are appreciative. I do not believe there are silver linings to the miasma of coronavirus, but it has been a joy to see our students rising to the challenge, especially after those first few fearful weeks when we were struggling to make this work. We will not forget those students who are still struggling, and CMU is putting in place vigorous academic forgiveness policies so we can help them stay on target. For the most part, however, this has been, within the context of the challenges we were handed, a successful semester that none of us want to repeat ever again or even think about very much in the next few weeks. It is time to take a needed respite from a relentless workload and the erasure of normal time.

One of the interesting things I’ve noticed as the situation continues is the loss of all the communication that happens in the spaces in-between. I just finished an article on the material cultural of North Dakota oil field workforce housing, where all the interesting stuff is in the places in-between where the residents and housing companies expect you to look. That has me thinking about just how much communication and work we get done in the hallways, in the 10 minutes before and after meetings, and in the unplanned encounters we have on campus. As you know, the life of a higher education bureaucrat administrator is meeting-to-meeting-to-meeting. As the weeks have passed, it is becoming harder to know all the details of what is happening in all the different parts of campus, because I do not have those small conversations with you, as well as my fellow deans and colleagues across campus. Like many of you, we are overwhelmed with pandemic life, so I am not about to call five people a day just to chat. As we continue to redesign how we work in the the new normal of the university, we will look for creative ways to build in this vital social and professional connection.

Unfortunately, Covid19 is just a cluster of protein with a thin fat sheathing that could not care less about our small communication issues, larger wants, or professional desires. While I wanted to write a purely uplifting congratulatory message, I would be remiss in my decanal duties if I did not point out that CLASS has come upon another critical juncture point. Next year is going to be most difficult. We already were feeling the pinch of declining enrollments, and Covid19 is an ill-timed fiscal kick-in-the-teeth. While President Davies has decided that students will return to campus in the fall, we have yet to figure out how to hold classes while following CDC guidelines. For now, take a few weeks to do whatever it is you need to do. But, please, keep an eye on your email this summer, as we are going to have to plan and prepare. Fall semester will be a challenge again; at a minimum you will want to know what the plans are. The dean’s office and your department chairs will be working on ways to help you adapt to those plans if you want assistance, so watch for the announcements. 

As I’ve adjusted to the new routine, my thoughts have slowed enough to allow me to return to reading at the end of the day. Nâzım Hikmet (1902-1963), one of my favorite poets, whose quarantine was far more onerous than ours, has some words of advice:

Some Advice To Those Who Will Serve Time In Prison

If instead of being hanged by the neck
         you're thrown inside
         for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, your people,
         if you do ten or fifteen years
         apart from the time you have left,
you won't say,
             "Better I had swung from the end of a rope
                                             like a flag" —
You'll put your foot down and live.
It may not be a pleasure exactly,
but it's your solemn duty
          to live one more day
                        to spite the enemy.
Part of you may live alone inside,
            like a tone at the bottom of a well.
But the other part
         must be so caught up
         in the flurry of the world
         that you shiver there inside
     when outside, at forty days' distance, a leaf moves.
To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
                  is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
             and for spring nights,
    and always remember
       to eat every last piece of bread—
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
                             to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it's not that you can't pass
   ten or fifteen years inside
                       and more —
       you can,
       as long as the jewel
       on the left side of your chest doesn't lose it's luster!

                             May 1949
Trans. by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk (1993)


And finally, some links of great things that have been happening (with apologies to any programs missed):

Dear CLASS Colleagues,

As we begin another week, I come to you again with thanks for another week of emergency distance education. I continue to hear praise from the students about how well things are going, all things considered, and the compassion and flexibility being offered. This week we also endured the first wave of the difficult rollout of multi-term scheduling and course permissions, thanks to the untiring efforts of the chairs and office professionals. 

President Davies has announced that we will not be having face-to-face instruction during our first summer session. Governor Whitmer has extended the stay-at-home order until May 1, and I think we are pleased to see that most people are properly hyphenating stay-at-home when it is a compound adjective. Beyond this none of us have a crystal ball, and I cannot tell you what will happen. We are struggling to figure out internships, and best positions for a very uncertain second summer session. Beyond very conservative budgeting and planning for flexibility, we will know what to do when we know. 

On the other hand, the end is in sight for spring semester. Four weeks to go, and one of those is finals week. It is probably a good time to start thinking about finals. We have had reports of all kinds of difficulties with exams that require the lockdown browser, especially as many students are using the non-compatible Chromebooks. CIS is coming up with solutions far faster than I can follow, so if you are relying on technology for a final, maybe check with them. Mostly, flexibility and alternate assignments are going to be key. President Davies committed to the students that we would provide this flexibility, and they do indeed expect it.

I know for me the days of the week are starting to blur, so these landmarks are important. Four weeks is still, however, a very long time. Too long to keep up the pace with which we started this unwanted adventure. The call for flexibility extends to you. We simply cannot accomplish as much under these conditions as we would like to, and in the case of our courses, as we intended to, and that's going to have to be okay. Pace yourself; take care of yourself.

Finally, we always can use some good links:

Richard Rothaus, Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Dear CLASS Colleagues,

At the end of a long week, I come to you with thanks. No exhortations. No new rules. No new lists of resources. Just a message of gratitude. The United States now leads the world in the number of confirmed COVID19 infections. While a college full of social scientists knows those numbers are partly artifacts of testing availability, there is no doubt the moment is upon us. If Michigan was a country, we would be ranked 21st in number of confirmed infections. The situation is serious, yet we are already organized, safe at home, and focused on the students. President Davies has been able to lead and react so quickly and efficiently because of the faculty and staff of CMU. The plans work only because you make them work. I want to recognize that making them work is hard. Harder than we thought. Hard in ways we weren’t expecting. The technological challenges of each day alone add stressors and complications that eat up our time and energy. Thank you for getting up each morning, finding a spot at your kitchen table, your laundry room, or maybe even comfortable chair, and facing those challenges anew. 

I want to thank the faculty and staff for working through the problems of each individual student. This week I have learned of students overwhelmed by the self-initiative needed in this environment, struggling with computers that cannot handle the planned assignments, childcare and work issues that make distance learning almost impossible, and internet challenges that seem insurmountable. One by one these problems are being solved, or alternate plans are being made.  Each one takes such a measure of emotional energy, all while each and every one of us is struggling with our own complicated issues as we care for ourselves and our loved ones. I am so grateful for those efforts, and so grateful to have you as a part of CLASS as we face this challenge.

Richard Rothaus, Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

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
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences
In the Monday as the students return virtually from spring break, we are getting a little distance on this and a sense of how to proceed. The situation is still changing rapidly, but we have a direction for a few weeks at least, and the students are ready. I have been humbled and honored by the CLASS faculty and staff who have taken on this challenge so quickly and moved immediately beyond the minimums to see just how much we could do in the midst of so many problems and uncertainties. President Davies and Provost Schutten are providing guidance and support as fast as they can, but with a global pandemic developing at this speed, the details are going to have to be filled in by us. There is no guidebook for this, and in fluid situations, some decisions are outmoded as fast as we make them. Flexibility is our guideword, and we must be flexible with each other. What we are doing in CLASS is taking an entire college from a face-to-face format to an emergency distance format. Our challenge is to preserve the best of what we do so that our graduating students have as good an experience we can create, and so that our other students come through this in a way that they can thrive. So much of our strength in CLASS derived from the many points of interaction we had with our students before and after class, at events, through RSOs, in the hallways, and around town.  That has all been stripped away. Please reach out to the students every way you can; they have not stopped needing us. 

This week much of our emphasis in the Dean’s office will be in positioning ourselves to support all CLASS faculty and staff. At the end of this message is a survey that we would like you to complete. We have never done this before, and we cannot support you if we do not know what you need. The time for this is right now. It may be this situation lasts three weeks. If, however, the situation deteriorates and lasts more than three weeks, we will sorely regret not preparing. Likewise, this week we will be focusing on making sure we have achieved the flexibility necessary to meet the needs and challenges of every CLASS faculty and staff member. We have been thrown too many challenges at once, and we expect your first priority to be taking care of your family and loved ones. You cannot teach and serve the students if you are consumed by worry and stress. We cannot fix many of the problems we are facing, but we can be sure that everyone has a work schedule that acknowledges the reality that schools have closed and daycares are under threat. We must assist high risk individuals and their families in being sheltered and isolated. All of us need to find the creative solutions that meet these needs while keeping CMU open. COVID-19 will pass, and CMU will be strong when it does, but only if we keep our people strong. 

One cannot over-communicate in such a situation. If you are having difficulties, need resources, or clarifications, please contact me directly.

A few technical points: 

Resources. Online resources abound, and I am sure you are finding them. Higher Ed and the Coronavirus is particularly useful. If you live in Mt. Pleasant, have you found the Mt. Pleasant CoVID-19 Preparedness Group? If you are talking to your children (or really anyone) about COVID-19, get some pointers from our own Sara E. Domoff, PhD, on Media Monday. Want to keep up on the news but also be surprised with stunningly beautiful and delightful items? Well, that’s thetwitter account of Prof Hajime Otani

Work from Home.  CMU Human Resources is encouraging most employees to telecommute or work from home with approval from their supervisor. While CMU is open and thus critical offices must remain open, all CLASS employees should be working from home if it does not limit our ability to function in the current situation. Please work with your supervisor today to make the necessary arrangements. Please note that supervisor permission is required for telecommuting and there is a telecommuting form that must be completed and approved before telecommuting begins.

Asynchronous Work   Between the emergency online courses, individuals working from home, and the added variable  of school closures, we are going to be faced with the unprecedented experience of having most of our faculty and staff in asynchronous work schedules.  This is going to be complicated and I ask everyone to be patient and understanding as each and every one of us is trying to figure out how to do this while simultaneously trying to care for families and friends with significantly disrupted lives. 

Students in Academic Buildings.  All instruction is occurring online. This means there will be no in-person meetings with students. Make-up tests, advising, and all other activity must be done via a distance format and students are not to visit offices. Students must not be sent to department offices to pick up work, assignments, books or other items. There will be some student workers in the offices, as this is permitted. There are very limited exceptions for specialized small group labs or similar activities.  These exceptions are only by written permission of the Dean, and are only being granted when there are no possible alternatives.  Graduate students who are employees of the university who must be on campus for their research may do so, but should be advised on social distancing and appropriate protocols. 

PLEASE TAKE THE REMOTE WORK ENVIRONMENT RESOURCE SURVEY by Wednesday. It will only take a few minutes.

Richard Rothaus, Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

A sunny day on a very quiet CMU campus, where the only piles of snow are at the peripheries of the parking lots. The Departments and Program Chairs and Directors, Staff, and Office Professionals had a full day yesterday discussing the transition for next week and the many questions and concerns that are arising. I also have had a chance to talk to several staff and faculty via email and the phone.  Here are some of the main items we discussed and some of the lessons we are already learning.

Transition to online. The chairs are working with faculty as needed to assist with the transition to online for next week. Pay attention to the CIS Learning Continuity page; they will be doing webinars as the situation develops, with announcements starting today and Monday. We anticipate there will be strong interest in recording lectures and CLASS will also be creating resources and opportunities to assist with that. Continuity of instruction is critical.  Pres.  Davies made it clear that we are going online next week and then we will see what follows.  If classes go on slowdown for a week on the assumption that things will return to normal, and then normal does not return, catch-up will be nearly impossible. Please prepare accordingly. If you need something, please ask.

WebEx. To be honest, when I arrived at CMU I thought it was a bit quirky that we did all our meetings in person. I certainly have a very strong preference for in person meetings, but it’s a bit archaic. For the rest of the semester the Dean’s office will be having all meetings via WebEx. The Provost is having meetings via WebEx. I have instructed Chairs to hold all department meetings with WebEx. If your meeting has more than  a handful of people: WebEx. Please note that it is quite easy to have one-on-one meetings with students via WebEx, and you should be when we are in online instruction mode. If you hate WebEx, try Microsoft Teams. It’s great also.  Learn how to use WebEx.

Exposure Concerns. Many individuals shared their concerns about exposure. Remember that our office staff have to show up for work and remain in place. For the time being, please treat department offices and workspaces as their private offices. If you need to use the spaces, coordinate with your OP. What for many of us is a brief drop-in before we return to our private office or home is for them just one person in the endless stream running through their workspace.  Many of our employees fall into the high risk categories, but still have to show up for work. The unanimous conclusion of the staff is that we would like people to minimize this exposure for the time being. People are especially worried about individuals who are returning to campus after a spring break of travel (anywhere); please strongly consider self-quarantining. For our staff who have to be in their offices, their social distancing depends on us. Please be respectful of a most reasonable concern in this very high stress time.

Student Concerns. The student concerns are, of course many. Most importantly, I think, is that we are going to have to be quite flexible. Students are going to have wildly different ability to access internet and materials, work issues and other problems. There is not going to be a one size fits all solution. Alternate assignments are going to be needed. That said, I think it behooves us to give this a bit of time. Some problems will get solved. Most important for next week is I think communicate. What we are seeing already is the students have as many questions as we do. Since no one has ever done this before, there may not be answers, but there can be communication. We have been having many discussions about internships. Students are out on their placements and their faculty have been communicating with them individually. As long as the location where they are interning is open, their internship can go forward. That said, we have been operating with due caution, as many of our placements put our students in contact with high risk populations. Asking the students questions about where they went on spring break and how they are doing has been important and uncovered one student who had been ill. With the glut of Covid-19 news, the students are overwhelmed. Fortunately, we are educators and know how to deal with that.

School Closings. The school closing news is fresh, so this will, of course, take a bit of time to figure out. We all are going to need to be flexible. All employees must inform their supervisor how and from where they will complete their duties; do not skip this step. We will find the juncture between flexibility and keeping all offices open during working hours. 

Take Care of Yourself. If you fall into one of the high risk groups, we want to help you follow the CDC guidelines. Talk to your supervisor and your Dean. Because we all do better when we all do better. 

Richard Rothaus, Dean
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences