Sustaining our Community

Dear Western Community,

I have reached out to you numerous times over the past few weeks with updates on the COVID-19 situation and Western’s response to it.  Today, I reach out to you for a different, yet equally important, reason: How do we maintain a sense of community during these difficult and virtual times?

I have had my share of major political and economic events: Two wars (in a different country) with the fighting line within 50 miles from my home, the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, the Dot-Com crash in 2001, September 11 terrorist attacks, and the 2008 great recession.  While many of those events had global repercussions, none of them rose to the level equivalent to the global pandemic, as caused by the novel coronavirus, impacting people in all continents.  It is too early to tell what impact COVID-19 is going to have on human health, political and financial systems, and our social structures.  Nevertheless, I have faith in human resilience, adaptability and ingenuity. In the long term, as a global society, I believe we will come out better and more resilient at the other end.

Closer to what we do, the impact on educational institutions and structures cannot be underestimated.  Our challenge is to come out on the other side of the crisis as a strong and coherent community.

One way to maintain a sense of community is to connect and share what’s on our minds, and in that spirit here is what has been on mine.  Of course, up front is the health and well-being of each of you and your loved ones.  But I am also worrying about a number of other matters: adequate time and resources for our faculty to deliver remote courses in the spring term; our ability to reach out to students and provide effective advising, tutoring and other services so they don’t fall behind in their studies; adequate medical supplies to support our students and the health of those providing those services; additional burden on staff and students who rely on campus employment disrupted by physical closure of the campus; the financial health of our state and the nation as they profoundly affect the support we receive for our university operations and student financial aid; and ensuring that we are well positioned to deliver effectively in fall, including our ability to reach out to an incoming freshmen, transfer and graduate class.

Like you, I have more questions than answers.  It also appears that this is one time where we are crossing the river by feeling for the stones.  And, you know, sometimes faith and intuition are most needed to get across the river.  Perhaps this is one of those occasions.

I know that each of you is coping with your own challenges.  I realize that you have questions for us for which we may not have definite answers.  As we work together to ensure educational continuity and well-being of our community members, it’s important to stay socially connected—even if it’s virtually—and share acts of kindness in the midst of all the negative news coming to us through the media.  Last evening, as my wife, Uzma, and I were walking in front of our house, two members of our Western community who live in our neighborhood stopped us and gave us a bouquet of Daylilies, as a token of thanks for our work at the university.  We were so touched by their kindness and we want them, and all of you, to know that this truly is the work of everyone at the university.  For that, we are most appreciative and grateful.

Please know that we are thinking about you.  We welcome your thoughts and suggestions on what we can do, individually and as a community, to facilitate connections and social interactions from afar during the spring term.

Stay safe and healthy.


Sabah Randhawa


Thank you for your sincere words. I appreciate your leadership and genuine thoughtfulness.

Thank you, Sabah, for humanizing what we are all going through right now. I'm grateful for this supportive and thoughtful leadership as I know all my colleagues around the world are not experiencing this much needed compassion.

We haven't heard much of anything from Western about how you are going to effectively deliver instruction to students. After all, you wouldn't have staff and teachers without students. Please talk more about how you plan to help students to thrive, those who need extra help, office hours, library time that isn't possible where there are no places to study. Will there be a savings to the families who have saved for years to afford an education for their child. Yes, these are strange times, but life has to go on. How will Western deliver to our students and familes?

Dear Maria,

Thank you for sharing your concerns about how remote instruction and student support services will work during spring quarter at Western. During the past few weeks Western faculty and staff have been working hard to prepare for the transition to remote teaching and learning starting April 6, as well as remote delivery of student support services. Although we will no doubt continue learning and improving as the quarter progresses, we are committed to doing everything possible under the circumstances to support student success and deliver a high quality learning experience.

If your student is registered for spring quarter they should have been receiving email and Western alert/advisory communications concerning remote instruction and student services for spring. Those messages are also available on Western’s continually updated coronavirus website, which includes extensive and frequently updated FAQs for students that cover these topics.

In those previous communications it was emphasized that instructors will be reaching out to students by Monday, March 30th about their particular methods of course delivery, contact and office hours, course expectations, and related matters. Most courses will likely include some combination of lectures, online discussion, group work, and regular assignments as normally occurs in in-person courses. In other courses, particularly experience-based courses, there will likely be significant changes, as we recognize that not all experiences can be replicated in a remote-delivery format. Again, faculty are working hard to make these remotely delivered courses as educationally beneficial as possible, and will be communicating with students about their particular courses by Monday in order to get everyone prepared for the first day of classes on April 6.

These previous messages have also included information about remote learning resources for students, such as this checklist for participating in classes online ( At this time Western Libraries, the Tutoring Center, Academic Advising, the Career Center, the Counseling Center, and the Disability Access Center are all operating remotely. Again, Western’s coronavirus information website is the one-stop-shop for details and updates on these matters.

In a time filled with so much uncertainty we know how stressful this unexpected transition to online education is for students and families. We also appreciate your understanding as we continue to manage a rapidly changing landscape and do our best to deliver the kind of educational experience that brought your student to Western in the first place.

Thank you again for sharing your concerns, and best wishes to you and your family for a healthy and safe spring quarter.

Paul Dunn
Chief of Staff to the President

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