McGovern College faculty, staff, and students:
Welcome back to the University of Houston and to the McGovern College of the Arts for the start of fall semester 2020! It's truly invigorating to have seen so many of you back on the campus and back in our buildings these last few days. The campus, and the College, have returned to a level of activity that, while still far from normal, is a level that we've not seen since mid-March.
I realize that these continue to be extraordinary circumstances. Many of us have had our professional lives upended by the pandemic; many of my faculty colleagues, like so many other professional artists, have had engagements cancelled and guest appearances postponed, and many of our students have been similarly affected. I feel for every one of you, and I understand the extent to which life has changed so markedly in the span of just five short months.
None of us should therefore pretend that the situation is "normal." It isn't. We must remain vigilant and we must pay close attention to the public health and safety standards in the College, on the campus, and in our city and our county. For some of us, that means engaging with our work and our colleagues virtually. For others, it might mean engaging in person, here on campus, with appropriate health and safety measures in place. For those who are able to engage in person, basic procedures such as the wearing of masks and social distancing are required not in order to prevent us from doing things, but rather to enable us to return to as much of our professional and educational lives as possible. Indeed, such measures are practical, and they work; they reduce the imminent threat of disease to a level that allows us to return to some of the activities that we originally came to the University to experience--including our education in the visual and performing arts.
It is critically important, no matter how we find ourselves engaging with the world around us, to remember that we owe it to ourselves and to each other to remember, and to constantly communicate, the value for our society of the arts and higher education. Both are more important now than perhaps they have ever been, certainly in my lifetime and probably beyond that. It is our responsibility to do what it takes to continue operating our College and our University. It is the time not to look away from this goal, but to focus and make it our highest priority.
Let me remind everyone as well that the beginning of a new semester can be a time of great stress for everyone--no more so than in the environment we are in now. Take a step back, regain your perspective, and find ways to relax, whether by visiting an exhibition, attending a lecture, or enjoying a performance--any of which can be experienced virtually or in person, as appropriate for you. These kinds of activities continue to remind me of why I do what I do, and I trust they can have the same effect on all of you.
Finally, I invite everyone to join me in acknowledging that, in any situation, any environment, and any circumstances, there is never a place--never an excuse--for incivility, lack of understanding, or shortage of tolerance and empathy toward our colleagues. We all know first-hand that the arts promote healing, understanding, and civil dialogue; join me in making this not just an abstract message but a real and concrete part of how we live our personal and professional lives, every day. As artists, we have an opportunity to lead on this issue: seize that opportunity, and lead our society down that better road that the arts promise for all of us.
I look forward to seeing all of you soon.