4.17.20: Week 5--Updates and Check-ins from Provost Farrell

An update sent to faculty and staff. 

Dear Faculty and Staff, 

We’ve reached the point in this unusual semester where we have adapted as well as possible to our sudden move to remote instruction and work, we have some exams behind us—a significant hurdle to have jumped, to be sure—but we still have quite a bit of work ahead in the few remaining weeks of the semester. Again, I thank all of you for everything you’ve done to maintain what makes Lehigh Lehigh in this new version of community. It certainly hasn’t been easy, and I am deeply aware that it’s the people who make it work.  

How are our students doing at this point? Student Affairs has put out an undergraduate student survey. They’re still compiling returns and will provide a full report when they are finished. So far, many students have reported concerns about their grades. These types of concerns are not unusual and often arise at this time during a normal, on-campus semester, but our current circumstances certainly contribute to anxiety levels. As you know, we have tried to reduce student anxiety about grades with a special grading scheme for this semester, but clearly some worries remain. We might be able to help by simply reaching out. 

If you haven’t done so recently, I encourage you to check in with your students—undergraduate and graduate—to see if they have a good sense of where they are with respect to their class performance. Now is a great time to reassure those doing well and guide those who need to make adjustments so they can be successful. This may require a little more reach-out than might be your norm for an on-campus semester, but this remote learning environment and its lack of in-person contact doesn’t always allow for the same kind of classroom interaction we’d have on campus. I appreciate your extra effort in helping students understand where they are grade-wise in your course and what to do if they would like to improve.

Beyond grading and other end-of-semester concerns, we all have countless questions on our minds. Among them: What’s next for Lehigh? 

We do not take lightly any of the decisions this pandemic has forced us to make, and we recognize the impact each has on the many members of our Lehigh community. Every step forward requires careful consideration. In all cases we rely on the guidance of medical experts and government leaders, as well as the continued commitment and effort of all of you. 

Earlier this week you received a memo from Vice President for Finance and Administration Pat Johnson and me outlining some immediate efforts we’re making to adjust our spending to be able to cover new costs related to COVID-19 and our move to remote teaching and learning in the current fiscal year. As we pointed out in that memo, some of these costs have hit us already, and we can understand their scale and scope. However, we anticipate other financial strains that we can’t scale yet. 

Part of the financial result is also dependent on what we can do for the Fall 2020 semester. We have formed a senior leadership team to work through a variety of possible scenarios for fall, recognizing some of the choices are ours to make and some very important ones may be constrained by state or federal regulations. We hope to come to a clearer conclusion in June on the approach we should take for fall, so that we will have time to prepare with that approach in mind.

For summer, as you know, all classes will be online and on-campus programs are canceled through the end of July. I hope that at some point, preferably early in the summer, we will be able to slowly repopulate labs and other on-campus facilities. I expect we will need to employ social distancing for some time to come, and, as state requirements are eased, develop sensible ways to “get back to work” while minimizing the possibility of resurgence of the pandemic.

We will keep you all informed as we see when and how we can begin to return to campus, but we should not expect that on a single day everything will return to the way it was. I’m afraid that may take quite some time. 

On a lighter note, the hard work and resilience—and, in many cases, humor—of our faculty and staff continue to inspire me. We’ve received some great responses to last week’s note. Many thanks to all of you who took the time to send in videos and images that have inspired laughter or thoughtful reflection. I’ll share several of them below. Keep them coming—we could all use a little inspiration now and then. 

Be well. 

Pat Farrell