McGovern College Faculty, Staff, and Students:
Welcome back! I’m excited to be in session again, and I am very much looking forward to the spring semester with all of you.
Here on the first day of the spring semester 2021 we again find ourselves working in a hybrid environment, with some instruction happening on campus and in person, and other instruction happening online. This environment is a direct result of our commitment to the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, even while we also uphold our commitment to provide the courses our students need, when they need them—regardless of what external factors might be in play. Faculty and staff, I again commend your herculean efforts to make this possible. Students, I trust you have been able to find the instructional delivery option that meets your needs; remember that our brilliant academic advising team in the college can always help you navigate your options along with all other aspects of your academic careers.
In the meantime, I join everyone in looking forward to the time when we can all be back on campus, together again, teaching and learning the arts with direct, in-person communication between colleagues, mentors, and students. No one denies the extraordinary losses we have suffered as a result of moving the College even partially online.
And while many would rather leave 2020 in the rear-view mirror, I don’t want to lose sight of what we accomplished. Our faculty, staff, and students continued to move mountains in assuring progress toward degrees, even amid the most extraordinary and literally unprecedented challenges. We responded in a deep and robust way to the moral and ethical challenges that were laid before us by the events of last summer, opening new dialogues and charting new courses of action that will impact the college for years to come. I especially commend the work of all of my colleagues who are serving on the Task Force on Anti-Racism: this body of faculty, staff, and students will deliver by the end of this year a strategic plan for achieving the kind of diversity we all seek in the college; we launch this week our first “Arts and Social Justice” course, the first course that resulted from the Culturally Inclusive Curriculum Grants initiated in the fall; and, on the Task Force’s recommendation, we have formed a McGovern Staff Council to represent the entire staff of the College. Please also watch for news, coming soon, on formation of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council; I look forward to opening this direct line of communication between me and representatives of the entire student body in the College.
I understand the monumental challenges that everyone continues to face. I know these challenges extend beyond simply navigating coursework and managing the demands of virtual teaching and learning. The social and mental-health challenges of this environment are real, and we must not overlook them. For students, if you find yourself needing support, don’t hesitate to reach out to the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services for help. Faculty and staff should reach out via the Employee Assistance Program.
I realize as well that there are many external factors other than the pandemic that are creating unusual stress and anxiety. I urge everyone to find their own outlets for expression—and their own peace and understanding—in their art. This is why so many of us entered the arts as a profession to begin with. I’m not sure everyone was able to tune into the College’s virtual commencement celebration in December (you can watch a replay here); I addressed this issue in my short remarks at that time, and I will reiterate them here for those who weren’t able to tune in. Reflecting on the fact that we were not able gather in person for the celebration, I observed that:
I can’t help but think that the distance we are forced to keep from one another during these extraordinary times is a metaphor for how so much discourse takes place in contemporary society. We speak, and we hear, but we do not listen, we do not process, and we do not contemplate. We look at each other, but we do not see—we do not truly apprehend the rich, worthy, valuable human being who is standing in front of us. And therefore even though we exist in the same spaces with one another, and even though we might find ourselves in close proximity to one another, we are too often not truly together. We have not made the effort or done the work required to really be together—literally “to gather,” in a shared sense of humanity, with basic, common, and shared values that bind us as humans despite our surface differences. This is, let’s all agree, the environment in which we need the arts, and we need those who have been educated in the arts.
Please continue to remember what drew you to the arts in the first place, and allow those values to guide the way you move through your personal and professional lives.
Again, I very much look forward to the day when I can greet you all again in person, on the campus. Until then, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly if you have questions, concerns, or comments. I wish everyone the very best and productive beginning to a great spring semester. See you soon.