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Northwestern University

Fall Message from Dean Randolph to the Community

Below is a summary of the message:
Hello, I am Adrian Randolph, 17th Dean of Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, founded in 1851. Through its long history, the College has faced daunting challenges. And, again, we face such challenges today. Some challenges are easily recognizable: the spread of Covid-19 has had a fearsome toll in this country and Illinois has seen its share of the tragedy. I very much hope that each and every one of you, whether you are in the US or somewhere else, is safe and that your loved ones are too. Moreover, to those who have served to help us through this crisis, whether by helping the ill or ensuring the food supply remains strong, you have our eternal and deep gratitude.

But emerging from the pandemic are a series of secondary and tertiary crises. We, like many, are feeling the financial pressures that the coronavirus has brought with it. And then there are the crises relating to work—with families stretched thinly while schools struggle to open—to mental health—as individuals struggle with isolation—and to inequality—as the interlocking crises shine a brutal light on inequities in healthcare and housing, food and water supplies, and generally on personal finances.

We at Weinberg College cannot solve all these crises, but they have revealed how the knowledge we produce helps propel us toward solutions. Thus, economist Matthias Doepke has been in the news with his research pointing to the various ways in which the crisis has disproportionately hindered women’s lives. Beth Redbird, recipient of an NSF-RAPID grant, has leveraged a daily survey, CoronaData U.S., to track attitudes in the United States during the pandemic: how isolated are we feeling, do we trust science, do we trust our politicians, whom do we see as most vulnerable, will there be a post-pandemic “baby boom”? And others, like Chemist Omar Farha, are developing helpful technologies. Farha is using metallic organic frameworks (MOFs) to produce a mask that literally de-activates the virus on contact.

My point is that during the pandemic, researchers in the College have turned to our fundamental beliefs in research and expertise in order to help us all stand up to this challenge. As always, our belief in deep and broad fundamental research is a cornerstone of our identity. It is only through such scholarship in the arts and humanities, in the social, natural, physical, and life sciences, that we will not only find ways to combat the virus, but also emerge from the crises it spawned with wisdom and understanding.

This is true of our teaching as well. In March, we were challenged to transform our curriculum for remote learning so that students could depend on continuity in their studies. Since then, faculty and staff have sought tirelessly to find new ways to ensure classes run as smoothly as possible and that our undergraduate and graduate students can, despite difficulties, find pathways to success.

This last week I took part in a reunion with fellow participants in an online course I took this summer to prepare myself for the Fall Quarter: I, along with six graduate student instructors, am teaching Introduction to Early Modern European Art with about 120 undergraduate students enrolled. All I can say is that I fully appreciate both the difficulties faced by all the instructors of the more than 1,400 courses we are offering this term, and the xxxx students taking those courses. What I have witnessed, however, is also extraordinary. In my fellow instructors I have seen a willingness to learn and evolve, and at least in my curious and committed students, I see a willingness to make this work.

This is not to downplay the very passionate voices I hear with suggestions and recommendations about how best to approach teaching and research in the time of Covid-19. Let me just tell you a bit about what is happening on campus.

Many research laboratories on the North Campus in Evanston have been open since May. With strict physical distancing, the wearing of face coverings, adherence to occupancy and density restrictions, we have managed to push forward with essential research in the sciences, which require physical presence in laboratories. And, so you know, last year PIS in the College were supported by over $100M in external research funding, one of our best years ever.

The South Campus is, generally, less busy. With the end of Wildcat Wellness, we are opening up some academic and administrative spaces, ensuring that students and faculty who are on campus have the services they need. But we are also encouraging many, still, to work from home. Following expert-advice and working very closely with the University administration, we have taken an incremental approach that seems to be working.

All that said, we all want to return safely to campus. Again, in consultation with experts and with the University’s administration, we are planning to do just that. In the meantime, we will put every effort into ensuring our students can make progress toward their degrees and that research is supported and can thrive. That is what we do.

So to our undergraduate and graduate students, and their families: be strong. This is challenging, but we are there to help. To my faculty and staff colleagues: thank you for your civility and calm, your hard work and humor; we will get through this. And to our loyal alumni: thank you for all you do to help Northwestern thrive.

As many of you know, I never tire of talking about the fundamental degree we offer, the undergraduate BA. Among the values that this degree instills is adaptability. We need this more than ever. So let’s all embrace the necessity for adaptation in this crisis, rather than fight against it. Yes, some of the change is unwelcome, but let’s try to mitigate the problems and find creative solutions when we can. Let’s not be falsely optimistic or positive, but let’s also not fall prey to cynicism and negativity. The spirit of adaptability runs deep in this community and it will serve us well during these crises and as we emerge from them.

So please be safe, be well, and know that Weinberg College and Northwestern are with you

Adrian Randolph 

Dean of Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences
Henry Wade Rogers Professor of the Humanities
Northwestern University

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