As history has shown us, times of great challenge often bring about the most powerful of changes. And we certainly live in a time of great challenge.
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched us all, disrupting societies around the globe and stealing the lives of thousands worldwide while sickening millions more. This disease has changed the way we work, the way we learn, and the way we live. It has robbed us of dear loved ones, and robbed us, too, of many of the simplest joys
At Lehigh, the harsh reality of COVID-19 struck like a hammerblow, forcing us in early March to send nearly all of our students home, to mandate a work-from-home policy for faculty and non-essential staff, and to move all our courses online. Our campus emptied within days; everything we knew about daily life on South Mountain changed in an instant.
In the weeks and months that followed, I watched with admiration and pride as our university community rallied and persevered in the face of a learning environment—and a broader set of challenges linked to the virus’s continued spread—that none of us had ever encountered. Faculty went above and beyond to deliver via an online format courses that one would think might be impossible to teach remotely: dance, furniture design and theatre courses, and countless kinds of labs. Our students, who have always impressed me with their ingenuity and resilience, adapted to their new reality and ran with it. This was not the semester they had envisioned, of course, but our seniors, especially, were willing to make the absolute most of it—and by extension, they helped others make the most of it, too. Meanwhile, our loyal and committed staff worked tirelessly behind the scenes to solve the innumerable dilemmas posed by the pandemic. Our collective work to find solutions to these problems continues to this day, and will continue for months to come. Quite simply, the pandemic is one of the greatest challenges this university has ever faced.
It is not, however, the only challenge it faces. The murder of George Floyd in late May forced our university, our nation and our world to confront uncomfortable realities and engage in difficult conversations about racism and social injustice. As a university, we may not be able to solve the broader societal ills that allow this injustice to continue, but we can—and will—take real action to ensure our policies, procedures and campus culture are aligned with our longstanding commitment to building and maintaining an equitable community. This will not be an easy process, nor will it be a short journey. But it is a necessary one, and we are committed to seeing
What these next few months may bring is anyone’s guess. As of this writing, COVID-19 is still with us, and as we work to formulate our return-to-campus plan for the Fall 2020 semester, we do so with humility and the full understanding that the uncertainties before us may force us to change our course in an instant.
But this is an institution that has been forced to change course before, and when it has done so, it has come out stronger on the other side. I have the utmost confidence we will rise to the occasion once more.
John D. Simon ’19P, President