From the Provost to the Faculty, re: Responding to Challenges

Dear Southern Faculty,

There are few times when an external threat undermines so very many of our norms.  Excluding wars, our collective experience during 9/11 was one such moment.  And now, the physically smallest of threats, a virus, has upended almost every aspect of our lives, from the very personal to the collective changes in how we educate our students.

If responses to challenges define a people, I think we can all be very proud of how our campus, our people, have so quickly found paths and approaches to help ensure the continued education of our students and the functioning of our university.  While the test still resides in what is to come, I am comforted to have seen so many of our Southern team pro-actively consider how best to confront the hurdles and issues that still lie ahead.

The stress and uncertainty of the past two weeks has been met with creative approaches and innovative solutions to how we will keep our primary mission -- helping our students learn -- in the forefront.  The solutions are not always perfect, nor do we expect perfection.  Moving to online education is a well-established approach for many at Southern but for many more it is new.  Kudos to our colleagues who so ably and rapidly ramped up training, early on face to face and more recently remotely.  Kudos to our very many faculty and staff members who quickly jumped (and continue to jump) onboard to start the process of learning the basics of how to teach online.  Kudos to our IT colleagues who ramped up support and our many committees and groups who almost instantaneously started meeting virtually.  Our “village” has so much to be proud of!

While we have fully activated the transition to online education, in parallel there have been many programs and experiential opportunities that have had to take serious detours.  Our usual approaches to research have been curtailed, internships have ended, clinical and teaching experiences have been brought to a sudden halt.  Many of our graduate students find themselves with the campus resources they need now off limits. Even so, despite these additional challenges, our deans, faculty, advisors, mentors, staff and students have begun to find other routes, alternate opportunities, including virtual experiences and activities, that will at least in part fill what would have otherwise been crucial gaps.

For our faculty members who have laboratory, clinical, or studio-based scholarship and creative activities, I know how painful this is (I’ve had to shut down my laboratory work as well).  I hope that during this time frame you are able to take the opportunity to perhaps write up some results that you’ve already obtained, to spend time creating new outlets for your artistic and creative skills, or to start that proposal you’ve not had the time to pursue.  Please also remember to support, as best you can, the intellectual needs of the students who might have been working with you in your discovery and creative activities.

It also deserves strong mention that our secretaries, administrative assistants, university assistants, our media team, and the entire support staff that keep our academic enterprise running have stepped up to the plate and done so with grace and a sense of urgency. What an amazing group of individuals who are the very scaffolding of all we do.

As I stated earlier -- in extraordinary times our actions truly define who we are.  The way we act can inspire our students, set an example, and instill a sense of optimism -- even while the environment and circumstances around us continue to change.  Collectively I believe that we are doing the best we can.  I am reassured knowing this and have full confidence that together we will meet this challenge and emerge even stronger as a result.

Please recognize that, despite our physical distancing, not one of us is alone in this new climate.  We continue to function as a collective, as a University.  And, as we continue to acclimate to remote education and meetings, as we settle into the concept of social distancing, it is critical that you remain -- as I know you do -- focused on our students and their success.  Our Academic Affairs team is available and ready to help.

Stay healthy, keep in touch with those important to you, and I look forward to literally seeing all of you again in the not too distant future.

Be well.


Robert S. Prezant
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs