Message of Gratitude - 3/27/2020

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

Updates from the Dean - 3/19/2020

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


Updates from the Dean - 3/16/2020

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


Updates from the Dean - 3/13/2020

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