News for Faculty & Staff

 

News from the Dean

Dean Shoulson, a man with short, grey hair, wears a blue suit and tie.

Dear Colleagues,

March 2024 marked the 4-year anniversary of Massachusetts’s implementation of its stay-at-home order for all residents in response to the rapid spread of COVID-19. It seems like it was just yesterday…and also another lifetime ago. None of us could have anticipated how long and how deeply impactful the lockdown and its aftermath would be. Indeed, we are still feeling its impacts, even as we have adapted to the “new normal” of living with a disease that began as a pandemic and has essentially become endemic. Thanks to the broad availability of vaccines and other medical therapies like Paxlovid, the disease is no longer nearly as frightening nor as deadly as it was when it first emerged. But it continues to shape our behaviors and remains a meaningful concern, especially for the more vulnerable among us.

I have been intensely aware of the impact of COVID at Brandeis since my arrival here eight months ago. Though not as ubiquitous as they were at the onset of the pandemic, masks remain a common sight in meetings and other venues. We are all much more vigilant about protecting our friends and co-workers, exercising caution at the slightest sign of sniffles or a raspy throat. And most significantly, our work lives have become far more hybrid than they once were. By virtue of the necessity for remote work and instruction during the height of the pandemic, we’ve all learned that it is more possible to fulfill many of our responsibilities within the new virtual modalities available to us than we once thought.

Possible, perhaps, but not preferable.

I never got to experience Brandeis pre-COVID, either as a faculty member or as Dean. But I hear from so many of you how much has changed with respect to the sense of community and camaraderie that once characterized life on campus. And I get a sense of those changes when I attend a faculty meeting or public event that offers an online (streaming option) and note the disappointingly low in-person attendance. While some departments, programs, and committees have returned to in-person meetings, some continue to hold them fully online or with a virtual option. It is no wonder to me, then, that I hear so many faculty, staff, and students lament the sense of alienation, estrangement, and communal attenuation they have been feeling. As convenient as it has become to speak to someone over Zoom, it is a convenience that brings with it the significant cost of a loss of intimacy, directness, and connection.

To be clear, I am not dismissing or minimizing the real value of these important technologies. For those who continue to be medically vulnerable, who have challenges that require them to be off campus temporarily, or for similar reasons, remote work and participation can be a real godsend; I am fully in favor of their use on these occasions.

But there is a critical difference between reasons like these and matters of convenience or preference. There can be no real substitute, in my opinion, for sitting in the same room, across the table from one another, speaking directly and listening thoughtfully, especially as we seek to navigate so many of the serious challenges we currently face, whether they be political, programmatic, or budgetary. It is through this direct, personal contact that we can communicate our own views and hear the views of others with the full attention and respect that they deserve. The critical value of this direct, personal contact has been at the heart of my own approach to my first year as Dean and has been behind my efforts to be physically present as much as I can, attending events, joining department and program meetings, or having open office hours and casual lunches open to all at the Faculty Club.

We are nearing the end of the academic year, with only a little more than a month to go before summer break. I am calling on all of you to take seriously my plea to make yourselves as present as possible in the weeks to come. And as we begin to plan for next year, I am hopeful that more of the work we do will be done with our whole bodies, in the flesh. We owe it to each other and, even more, we owe it to our students.

Sincerely,
Jeffrey


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"What Gets Rewarded? Re-Aligning Tenure and Promotion Guidelines for Today's Academy," Mandel 303

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Admitted Students Day, limited on-campus parking

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May 19 Library's Research Excellence Prize
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