Alumni and friends,
I write today as we in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences work to meet the educational challenges brought about by the novel coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19.
The effects of the pandemic reach everyone across our nation and around the globe. In these difficult times, I want to take a moment to recognize all of you and your family members who are working on the front lines in healthcare professions. Your contributions are absolutely essential in this current environment, and we know that many of you put yourselves in harm’s way each day. We sincerely thank you.
Thousands of CLAS graduates work in healthcare, but let us not forget our alumni in other sectors of the economy who provide support and hope for millions. Some are helping to feed the population by maintaining our food supply from farm to table, others are making sure we receive vital supplies, and many are holding together businesses large and small to keep the country and its economy going. CLAS-trained scientists are contributing to the search for pharmaceutical solutions and using advanced methods to model the epidemic.
These are but a few examples of how UF CLAS graduates like you are making a positive difference in these turbulent times. We all have a role to play in the weeks and months ahead, as we support each other and our fellow citizens. Over the coming months, I’ll be sharing news and stories with you about the efforts of CLAS faculty, students, and alumni to move us beyond this crisis.
Moving to remote work and online learning
In mid-March, President Fuchs asked all UF students who could to return home and stipulated that all of our courses were to be moved online. When Alachua County issued a “stay-at-home” order at the end of March, all UF employees were told to work from remote locations, so effectively we had a “stay-and-work-at-home” order.
UF faculty are fulfilling their service duties from home as well, and even their research duties to the extent possible, although this is complicated by the fact that all research laboratories, libraries, administrative offices, and non-essential facilities have been closed. As you can imagine, the campus is eerily quiet compared to the usual bustle of this time of year.
Our spring graduation events have been postponed, including the college’s recognition ceremony, which has been pushed to a planned date in late July. Despite this, we are planning a virtual graduations celebration of our CLAS grads in May. Our graduates will be recognized through social media (#CLASGrads2020) and on a CLAS website dedicated to this purpose.
All of these steps were taken to increase social distancing and to reduce the rate of growth in COVID-19 cases, thereby limiting the impact of new cases on the health care system and making it possible to continue to provide the necessary care to the most vulnerable.
In spite of these issues, UF remains open for business, and I can report with some authority that faculty and staff are fulfilling their duties in stellar fashion. As I mentioned, UF has gone to online instruction for the rest of the spring semester and the entirety of the summer term.
This transition of many hundreds of courses from face-to-face to online delivery in only a few short days was the most daunting instructional challenge I have seen in my career. I am pleased to report that our faculty have been incredibly resilient and that they have risen to the occasion.
Many of those who were already familiar with the wonky world of Zoom, synchronous vs. asynchronous classes, learning management systems, online proctored exams, and the rest of the online learning repertoire graciously offered to help their less experienced colleagues to make this transition in less than a week, with the result that the number of complications was minimal.
The spirit of cooperation and mutual support shown by colleagues has been awe-inspiring!
Helping students deal with the unexpected
This instructional transition has created learning environment challenges for our students, so UF has substantially relaxed the S/U and drop policies to accommodate the issues that have inevitably arisen this semester. Students can elect to convert any spring semester graded course to S (satisfactory, student credit hours awarded) or U (unsatisfactory, no credits), which will not count against their grade point averages — or they can drop a course without penalty.
I have also been pleased to see that our faculty have gone beyond providing academic support and are helping their students manage the emotional strains and practical problems that have arisen in their lives.
Beyond being thoughtful and respectful in setting their academic expectations, they have shown that they care for our students as individuals, making CLAS a place of personal support despite our large student population.
How you can help
Despite the successful responses of our students, faculty, and staff to the unexpected disruptions in their lives, we know that some CLAS students are burdened more than others by the need for physical distancing and working at home. In particular, many CLAS students do not have an ideal place to study at home or lack necessary technology, having relied until recently on the infrastructure of the UF campus.
CLAS and UF are doing all we can to help all of our students succeed. One of the best tools for this is the Aid-a-Gator fund, which provides financial assistance to students to help them stay on track. Through Aid-a-Gator, students have received support for such needs as:
- Monthly internet access for a home that has none during the crisis
- Computers that can connect online and run necessary software
- Webcams and e-textbooks
- Desks and chairs
- Out-of-pocket medical costs or lost wages
- Travel costs for returning home
If you would like to assist UF students by contributing to the fund or know someone who would, please visit affinitygiving.ufl.edu/campaigns/gators-helping-gators to learn more. Students requesting Aid-A-Gator funds are required to fill out an application to justify their requests. In addition, CLAS is developing support for CLAS students through initiatives within our Beyond120 professional development program.
If you know any UF students, please consider reaching out to them to provide a friendly and understanding voice. We know from experience over the last few weeks that students very much enjoy a chance to connect over Zoom with their classmates and instructors. We all need to work to stay connected and reduce stress.
Keeping professional development vibrant
While we do not know exactly what the next year holds, it is clear that the shifts in the economy are leading to a very different outlook compared to projections that were made only two or three months ago. Now more than ever, our CLAS students can benefit from your advice on how to remain focused and resilient in the face of discouraging news.
Our CLAS Beyond120 professional development program will be working to bring more of your advice and counsel to our students starting in the Fall. I anticipate that many of the interactions will take place via remote conferencing, which on the positive side will allow alumni speakers to avoid travel while maximizing student participation. If you would be interested in contributing your time to this effort, please let Ryan Braun at email@example.com know.
Together, our society and UF can weather this storm, and I am convinced we will come out stronger and more resilient in the end. Thanks for all you do.
Stay safe, Go Greater, and Go Gators!
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences