COVID-19 and Supporting the Community

Mar. 13, 2020

My dear colleagues,

In addition to all the formal notices that you have been receiving from the university with respect to policies being put in place to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 (aka coronavirus) on our community, I wanted to offer some words of support to the many challenges that you are facing in your teaching, scholarship, and personally.

I know the decision to move all classes online is extremely disruptive and I know that we will not be able to have the same quality teaching experience for the students that we have in-person.  The decision to move online was motivated by several factors but let me expand on one.  All of our decisions are being informed by public health expertise and guidance.  As leaders in the Boston hospitals and the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at NIH have explained, the coronavirus is already here and much more widespread than current numbers suggest because we have not been testing for it.  Health experts have also said that in all likelihood anywhere from 50-70 percent of the population in our area is likely to have experienced the coronavirus by the end of the summer.  Most people will not know they had it or will have very few symptoms and as a result will never get tested.  The challenge is for the small percentage of people who will have an acute reaction to the virus.  By implementing social distancing (such as moving everyone online and decreasing the density of students living on campus) we hope to spread out over time the number of cases of coronavirus rather than having them occur in a very short period of time.  In this way our local hospitals will have a better chance of successfully treating more people.  Here is a link to an article about flattening the curve for the coronavirus that I hope you will find informative.
https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/11/flattening-curve-coronavirus/  

For your teaching I urge you to think outside of the box and not get caught up with trying to duplicate your in-person course online.  If you try to do that it will be a recipe for frustration and failure for you and your students.  You may need to modify your teaching in quite dramatic ways including what can be covered this semester.  This is ok.  You may decide you need to move your course to pass/fail and that is ok too – just go through your school’s review process for this. The Center for Teaching and Learning has a ton of ideas for how to think about redesigning your course on such short notice.

I want to reassure everyone that the Deans and I know and understand that your teaching will not necessarily be at your usual standards.  While we have not yet made any final decision about distributing teaching evaluations at the end of the semester, this semester’s teaching evaluations will have a big asterisk associated with them with respect to the weight they are given for renewal of appointments, tenure and promotion decisions, and salary reviews.

As you engage online with your undergraduate and graduate students I encourage you to think not only about their learning and research needs but also their needs for additional support as they grapple with being separated from their Brandeis community.  I know that graduating seniors are feeling a particular sense of loss.  There are many students, just like you, who are deeply disappointed that they will not be able to do that special research project, performance, athletic event, or fill in the blank ___ that they had hoped to do this semester.  So don’t hesitate to let them know that you understand that disappointment too.

Some of you have asked me how you might be able to help our students, especially those with more financial constraints.  Here is a link to a crowdsourcing site where you can contribute to a student emergency fund that will provide financial assistance to our students in need.  http://giving.brandeis.edu/sef

In spite of the fact that research space and the library continue to remain open for the time being, I understand that your ability to conduct your research is likely to be disrupted in the coming weeks.  Again this will be taken into account in faculty reviews.  For those of you who have received Provost teaching and research awards this year we are rolling over those funds into the next academic year for up to six months in recognition of this disruption.  

I urge you to bookmark the Brandeis Coronavirus FAQs page.  This page is being constantly updated and should be your first destination to find answers to any questions you may have.   If you don’t find the information you are looking for there then email covid-19@brandeis.edu.  Your Deans and I are also ready to answer questions and address any concerns you might have.  But recognize that we are all grappling to manage this unprecedented crisis too, so we are grateful for your understanding that we might not have the answers to your questions right away.

The Office of Admissions is creating opportunities for admitted students to connect with our community virtually. If you are willing to be listed as a department contact for admitted students interested in your program, please contact Lindsey Hoyt, Associate Director of Admissions, at lindseyhoyt@brandeis.edu. In addition, the Office of Admission is working on replacing the Academic Fair held during Admitted Students Day with a virtual event. Lindsey may be reaching out to request your participation and support for this important yield event. Please be on the lookout for these communications.

As deeply unsettling as this period of time is, I encourage you to reimagine not only your teaching and research but also how we create community as we move into a “virtual space”.  While it is important to physically distance ourselves from each other, there is no reason why we shouldn’t double down on increasing the ways we virtually connect with each other.  As an effort to try to reduce this sense of isolation, my office will begin sending out, after March 26, short videos to the community called “Wellington Break Time” that will feature Brandeis videos new and old.  This may include things like videos from the Rose, our Athletics department on how to keep physically active at home, and past events on campus.  I encourage you to think about how you might also, in the spirit of the Wellington prize, “enliven the spirits and delight the senses” of your colleagues, staff and students. I would appreciate any and all ideas and videos you may have of Brandeis moments that we could post that would fit this goal of helping to connect in our new virtual space.

This is an extraordinary event that we are all going through.  But it will end and we will come through the other side!

With gratitude for all you are doing,

Lisa

Lisa M. Lynch, Provost