May 17, 2021
Dear Southern Colleagues,
This past year has been trying on so very many fronts. The issues associated with the pandemic, social injustice, economic stress, and politics have commingled to create an environment few of us have faced before. We now reach the end of our academic year after navigating the most serious global health threat in over 100 years, proudly voicing our concerns about the many issues of social injustice facing our nation, and continuing to ensure an outstanding education for our students.
With the year’s wrap-up, this week we celebrate one of our collective goals, the successful graduation of students, undergraduate and graduate, who met the challenges of their years at Southern and will soon have diplomas in hand. Each diploma will serve them in a world that has changed. Politics and media have again induced a deep national polarization and our perspective on what a safe and equitable country looks like has been swept up in the debate. Preparing our students for this ever-changing environment is a large part of higher education’s responsibility. Our students must emerge armed with a sound liberal arts base, a strong disciplinary focus, and the ability to discern fact from fiction. These are among our primary objectives and where you do your best work. The students graduating reflect the collective efforts of all members of our Southern community. Each diploma represents the concerted efforts of our faculty and staff who, as always, brought their energy, dedication and knowledge to our students. Your stamina and unending focus on ensuring the best education possible for students in the face of an uncertain and shrinking world, is deeply appreciated.
Despite the challenges, we’ve had an amazingly productive year. Southern’s curriculum has expanded to include important new degree programs. Substantial external grants that boost our educational programs, support our students, and enhance our scholarly output, have been awarded. We’ve put on plays, held concerts, had art showings, and on and on, demonstrating our talent and resilience. And new partnerships with both public and private enterprises have been created. Our students, faculty, and staff selflessly supported the region through their own hands-on efforts to care for those most vulnerable to the pandemic and economic downturn. Our Administrative Assistants, Secretaries, Custodians, our many student workers, and all our Southern team, worked to keep our university functioning and responsive. Our Buley team kept our library active and accessible, even when we were fully remote. Our Office for Online Learning and all members of our Southern team involved in our online viability, performed with amazing alacrity and professionalism. Institutional Research and our Office for Assessment and Analytics kept data and important surveys flowing. Our team in ICM did remarkable work promoting and supporting our programs and university. And together we worked to speak with a clear voice as we continued our march to becoming an institution rooted in social justice.
This note serves three purposes. First to thank you for all you have done to get us through one of our most taxing years. While it was a bit of a roller coaster, our eyes remained always forward-looking and for that you have my deepest appreciation. Indeed, and above all else, we kept our students first.
Second, as we think about the future of our institution, I know we all recognize that many serious non-pandemic challenges remain. With those issues in mind, I hope we can collectively promote a spirit of parsimony to help us accelerate important work to be done. I know we are primed to take large steps to keep us highly competitive. I know there are many, many terrific, “big ideas” being contemplated. I look forward to our campus working together to nurture those ideas and new approaches, allowing them to emerge and thrive quickly. With vaccines in place, new CDC and State relaxation of covid restrictions, and a proverbial light shining in the tunnel, we have hopes that our fall semester will be much closer to our hoped for "return to normal."
And lastly, I remind you that summer approaches -- take some time to refresh and reinvigorate. The past year has been exhausting, and we all know that the fall 2021 semester will be at our doorstep in what will seem like an instant. We’ll need all of you primed and ready to dive into the new academic year with eyes on the same prize…our students’ education and future and keeping Southern an engine for creativity and discovery. In particular, our students count on us to help prepare them for the world they will inherit, a world that seems increasingly complex and yet, for many of us, imbuing more clarity of the exciting and positive work that still awaits us.
With that, thank you, and, as always, be well.
Robert S. Prezant, Ph.D.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs