To: Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Post-Docs
From: Clarence Lang
Date: March 9, 2021
I hope that you are doing well as we embark on the second half of the spring semester.
I realize that I’m writing to you at a point during a “normal” year that would mark the start of spring break. I am also acutely aware that it was about this time a year ago that the harsh realities of COVID-19 began to hit home and turn our worlds upside down. To say it has been a challenging year would be a gross understatement by any stretch of the imagination – I think we can all agree that the pandemic has exacted a tremendous toll upon us individually and collectively, and that we all look forward to returning to some sense of “normalcy” soon, whatever that may entail.
I do not want to lose sight of the fact, however, that the past year has been one of tenacity and creativity as well. We were given the herculean task last March of transitioning to a remote learning environment in one week’s time. We responded resourcefully, and we have continued to find innovative ways to teach students in a mixed-mode environment since. We have continued to engage and keep in touch with our alumni and now find ourselves on the cusp of reaching our capital campaign goal more than a year before the campaign ends. Our faculty continue to be nationally recognized for their scholarly accomplishments and the college is on a record pace in terms of research support. And faculty, staff, students, and alumni alike have been at the forefront of efforts to tackle the pandemic and its effects within their communities. One outcome of this work is our Liberal Arts Emergency Assistance Fund, which is supporting Liberal Arts undergraduate and graduate students, including those enrolled through the World Campus. I am deeply grateful to everyone for their perseverance, patience, ingenuity, compassion, and leadership this past year, and I am proud to be part of a liberal arts community that endeavors to practice what it teaches.
The slow but steady distribution of multiple vaccines, the arrival of warmer weather, and the University’s announcement of its intention to return to in-person teaching and learning by this fall are all positive signs that light may be emerging at the end of the tunnel. I say this knowing that we are still not out of the woods and that some of us continue to struggle emotionally, professionally, medically, or otherwise. In response to this situation, the University is exploring work adjustment processes for those who require them and qualify.
I realize that a number of other questions remain about what the future will bring: “Will there be an in-person commencement this spring?” for example. Or “What are the plans for returning to a campus work environment?” and “How will we ensure that students, faculty and staff get the vaccine as we approach this next phase under COVID?” Despite the uncertainty, we will approach all decisions within the context of maximizing the health and safety of our liberal arts community. This will include monitoring the course of the pandemic and vaccine distribution and, as necessary, pivoting in our responses.
In closing, I want to encourage you to take advantage of the University’s next Wellness Day this Thursday (March 11). Whether it be by limiting your time on Zoom by postponing or altogether canceling any standing meetings, or by planning to virtually attend any of the scheduled Intellectual and Spiritual Wellness Dayactivities, the day presents a wonderful opportunity to unplug and refresh. For those of you who are teaching or advising undergraduate or graduate students, it is important to honor the spirit of Wellness Day for them, as well. If you are in need of more substantive forms of assistance yourselves, remember to take advantage of the University’s Employee Assistance Program, whose services are free to you. We cannot hope to achieve the goal of being a community of care if we do not encourage and allow ourselves, and others, to manage the pace and unique pressures of teaching, learning, and other forms of University work right now.
I am cautiously optimistic that we are turning a corner. Based on how we have responded to the challenges we have faced this past year, I remain confident in our ability, and our will, to deal with whatever awaits. Until the next time, please continue to be healthy and safe.
Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts
Professor of African American Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
111 Sparks Building
University Park, PA 16802