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.