Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Dear campus community,
Welcome to Fall 2021! Whether you are joining us remotely or working and taking classes on one of our campuses, the start of a semester is always exciting and a good moment to reflect. I typically think about the immediate moment—what do I want to accomplish this semester—and, in the much larger picture, how does my work contribute to the larger mission of higher education? Somehow, as we wrestle with the ongoing pandemic and with charting a path for the post-pandemic future of higher education, these questions seem both more difficult and more important.
If I have learned nothing else over the last year and a half, I have learned to acknowledge uncertainty and prepare for…whatever. This has not been easy—for me and likely for many of you. But as hard as it has been, I have increasingly come to believe that this experience affirms the value of higher education to prepare us for…whatever.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to hear Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, speak at an education conference. When asked by university professors and administrators what he wanted to see in college graduates, his answer surprised us. He did not simply affirm the commonly professed requests for excellent written and oral communication skills, technical skills, or teamwork; noting, of course, that these are critical. Instead, he urged us to produce college graduates who are “not so damn certain.” Baquet asked that our graduates—and, by extension, all of us—recognize how little we actually know with any certainty and embrace being intellectually open, actively inquisitive and affirmatively uncertain.
So, as we launch the semester at a moment of many uncertainties—the pandemic, climate change, the tragedy unfolding in Afghanistan—I encourage us all to embrace uncertainty and use it to grow intellectually and personally. This fall, like many of you, I am charting unfamiliar territories. We will be a truly hybrid University for the first time, with half of our students studying remotely and half on campus for at least one course. Many of our employees are also working hybrid schedules that include working both remotely and on campus.
Personally, I will be teaching a hybrid course for the first time which will have an asynchronous component and a weekly in-person class meeting. I have worked hard to prepare, but, as it was for most of our faculty in March 2020, this is new to me. I also know that the pandemic or the consequences of climate change could create a need for further adaptation. So, I too am working hard to embrace uncertainty, confident that, however hard, I will learn and grow. Be sure to ask me in December how it has gone!
Whether here physically or remotely this semester, I urge all to join me in embracing this opportunity to re-engage with our academic community. Who knows what we will learn?
I know that many questions remain about the pandemic and campus safety plans. Please be sure to regularly consult the Campus Comeback website and know that we have achieved our goal of being one of the most highly vaccinated campuses in the country (as of late last week almost 99% of our students taking in-person classes had submitted proof of vaccination!).
With wishes for an excellent semester!
Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.