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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Tackling the challenge of Covid-19 head on

(Message sent to CLA alumni and friends, March 17, 2020)

Dear Friends of CLA,

Throughout the past few weeks, and especially in recent days, the news about COVID-19 has increasingly occupied our thoughts and energy. The surge in cases across the world and in Minnesota have made us all think ever more of each other’s needs. 

In CLA, we have discussed our concerns for our students; our alumni, friends, and donors; our faculty, staff, and community partners; and all of those around us. We have shared our worries for friends, neighbors, and family members whose lives have been abruptly turned upside down through isolation, health fears, and the loss of income. Like you, we hear inspiring stories of clear-thinking, collaboration, and caring. I’ve said to you often that the disciplines of the liberal arts teach one empathy and how to see the world through others’ eyes. I have had the privilege from my vantage point to see that play out every day during these past weeks and days.
Under the leadership of President Joan Gabel, the University of Minnesota has been taking steady steps preparing for the current shift in how we will get our work done going forward. Excellence and opportunity are two cornerstone values of the CLA experience, and our commitment to those values will never waver. In the college I appointed an ad hoc committee to explore all issues related to how the pandemic affects our operations. This committee gathers information, takes questions, provides answers, and researches solutions. Its work has been outstanding and it is multiplied by the driven, talented, and creative staff and faculty across the college working to make it possible to achieve our mission at a high level. 

Uppermost for the College and University is the care and welfare of our students. All coursework will be delivered through alternative and remote instruction rather than in-person through the end of the semester, and our technology, software, and pedagogy experts have been working tirelessly to have all faculty and all classes ready to run in this new format by tomorrow. Advising and career counseling are now fully available with online appointments. 

Sadly, students have had some dreams dashed and their studies made more logistically challenging. Most internship arrangements have come to an unexpected early conclusion. The University has suspended all learning abroad programs and students must return from abroad. We are making provisions for all these students to complete their studies. All University libraries systemwide are closed beginning today until further notice, though their robust digital presence will continue. Residence halls remain open for those students who need them, but students may need to move to one of the open halls from their present assignment.

More broadly at the University, all non-essential University-funded travel has been canceled for faculty, staff, and students. And with the University expecting all employees who can work remotely to do so beginning tomorrow, faculty and staff are finding creative and flexible work-from-home scenarios that balance providing service and keeping our community safe. The campus COVID-19 page provides more information about the University’s response and actions. 

All CLA events have been canceled or postponed through the end of the semester, including our graduate and undergraduate Commencement ceremonies. Our events designed for you and for the general public unfortunately also have been canceled. For some faculty, promising research has been disrupted and their transformative research and engagement with our valued community partners has had to be put on hold or modified significantly. 

Some of you have asked if there is a way to help from afar and we are grateful for your interest. The CLA Student Emergency Support Fund helps students with emergency needs such as temporary housing, space to self-quarantine, food supplies, and other essentials. The financial challenges created by the pandemic are exactly the kind that can derail a student’s education and prevent a return to school and graduation. The CLA Student Emergency Support Fund helps keep students on track. Currently, the college is helping support the 50 CLA students who were abroad in Italy, China, and South Korea. The number of students needing help is expected to grow in the coming days, so support of this fund is especially valued. In the coming days you will hear of other ways to help students from across the University and I encourage you to explore those options as well. 

You would be proud and inspired by the ways the many members of our UMN and CLA community have upheld and lived out the high ideals of our purpose and our values during these unprecedented times. To take but one example, our Medical School partners have begun testing three drugs to see if they can prevent, slow down, or treat the virus. We also know that you, our amazing community of CLA alums, friends, and donors, are doing inspiring work in your industries and communities to tackle the health, economic, and social challenges of COVID-19 head on and to nurture and care for those who are ill, at high risk, or suddenly find themselves out of work. 

I am grateful to be a part of a community rooted in the liberal arts. And I am especially grateful to be standing with all of you, our CLA community, at this moment in history. In the liberal arts we prize adaptability, creativity, communication, fearless inquiry, and empathy. All of those commitments put us on a good course as a college and in our society as we move forward in the days, weeks, and months ahead. On behalf of all of us in the College of Liberal Arts, I thank you for your friendship.