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Northwestern University

Message from Dean Randolph - March 19, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

As always, I hope that you and your loved ones are healthy and safe. As we mark this week the anniversary of the pandemic’s advent in our midst, I wanted both to thank everyone for their efforts in these extraordinary times and to reflect on this difficult year.

As I was writing this message, we heard about the tragedy in Georgia. I just want to take note of this most recent case of brutality that seems to be directed against members of a particular group and of violence against women. In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor, these latest killings remind us of the complex intersectional biases that run through the history of this nation and its present. Only last week, a student told me of the racial slurs and physical abuse she had encountered as an Asian-American woman. This, sadly, is not an isolated case. Indeed, recently faculty colleagues in the College have been attacked online for their ideas or ideas ascribed to them, with racist and sexist insults and death threats. The university has supported the faculty members involved but also has taken into account the safety of the targeted individuals and their families in responding.

I have discussed these disturbing developments with Provost Hagerty and University leadership, and we are united in condemning racism, sexism, ageism, and ableism of all kinds, and we support members of our community – faculty members, students, and staff – who are the targets of such harm. Please consult the College’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion website, which contains links to various resources available to our community.

It is impossible to separate such matters from the ongoing effects of the pandemic. Today marks one year since I last met with colleagues in person. I will not review all of the many challenges we have collectively faced in Weinberg College, but I do want to recognize all those individuals who have especially suffered this last year. I am thinking of those who have either fallen ill or cared for someone who has, those who have sought to strike an impossible balance between professional and personal responsibilities during a time of home instruction of children, remote instruction at the university, the economic aftershocks of the pandemic, and the disproportionate effect of all these issues on the women and BIPOC members of our community. In addition, for some the long trajectory of research has been either hampered or diverted in ways that produce confusion and concern. Please know that we in the Dean’s Office are in conversations every day with faculty members, staff, and students about how to respond to the ongoing crises in a way that is fair, sustainable, and aligned with our mission and ethos.

The last year has challenged our commitments, causing us to shift rapidly to the technologies that support remote learning, charting a path toward research success despite physical and spatial difficulties, and attending to the strain and stress that ripples through all our lives. Of course, we want to commend resilience and respect success in these hard times, but in so doing we do not wish to diminish our respect for those who held things together, who managed. As we look forward to a time when we can return to a professional life that is not marked by separation and crisis, I hope we can learn from our experiences and find ways to appreciate what was taken from us this year. More aspirationally, I hope we can take positive lessons from the crisis when it comes to our curriculum and our pedagogy, for we have had to adjust nimbly to the problems we have faced and much has been gleaned from these shifts.

As many of you know, the College convened the Educational Contingency Planning (ECP) group last summer to both address immediate problems but also look to the opportunities beyond the crisis. Led ably by Associate Dean Mary Finn, the ECP is developing plans for how we can, for example, produce processes for encouraging the best remote-teaching/learning practices even when the necessity for remote instruction wanes. Similarly, do some administrative meetings simply work better remotely?

We will in the coming months be looking at analogous issues when it comes to our classrooms and laboratories, the structuring of work on campus, and, with an eye to the environment, the norms when it comes to travel and programming. We fully believe in the residential College experience and the power of in-person meetings for curricular and research ends, but in light of the climate crisis we also want to reflect on when we can achieve our goals without enlarging our carbon footprint unnecessarily.

All this requires some reflection and discussion, but I want to begin setting the stage for such discussions so that we are best prepared for the post-pandemic world.

On this anniversary, I wish to share my sense of gratitude to all who have worked so hard during the crisis. I remain in awe of so many in our community who have contributed to ensuring that our students can make progress toward their degrees and that we remain true to our most exciting ambitions. I look forward to the day when we can celebrate these together. For now, we still have a long way to go, but in standing together, I know we will thrive.

Be well and stay in touch.

Adrian Randolph
Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences
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