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End-of-Year Message from Provost Clarke

Dear colleagues:

As we come to the end of the fall semester, I’d like to thank you for all that you have done to sustain Virginia Tech’s instructional, research, and outreach missions in the face of this very challenging pandemic.

Over the past few weeks, I have visited with a number of faculty representing different colleges, academic ranks, and assigned duties to listen to and learn from accounts of their experiences throughout the fall semester. Much of the conversation during these visits has focused on the time faculty have committed in service to the university, and how the challenges they have encountered at home have impacted their work-life balance. For most faculty, particularly those who have dependent care responsibilities, it is clear that this semester has been tough. While juggling work assignments and schedules with childcare responsibilities, they have had to worry about their safety and that of their families and students, their ability to make expected progress towards promotion and tenure, burdening colleagues who are covering for them while they are unavoidably committed to other urgent matters, and the emotional and mental stresses associated with restrictions placed on travel and face-to-face interactions with colleagues and family.

It is the nature of faculty to be committed to student instruction, mentorship, and success. This is what attracts them and their colleagues to an academic career – developing the intellectual capacity and curiosity of students, and equipping them with competencies necessary to pursue productive careers in service of their communities. For this reason, it was no surprise to learn from my visits with faculty that their inability to engage fully with students in-person was a significant source of disappointment and frustration.

Despite these impediments and disappointments, our faculty rose to the occasion by developing new ways to interact with students online, going the extra mile to mentor students experiencing academic difficulty, and converting previously face-to-face instruction to hybrid formats that safely integrated in-person with online learning. These efforts and approaches were supported by colleagues in central administrative units who encouraged and provided the resources and training necessary to deliver a curriculum under extraordinary circumstances. Many of these adaptations were so effective that I anticipate that they will continue to be used long after the pandemic has abated.

Looking forward to the start of the spring semester, I anticipate that the status of the pandemic will require the continuation of public health measures and modes of instructional delivery that have served us well during the fall semester. Of course, we are committed to applying lessons learned from the fall, such as starting the semester online while moving students into residence halls, distributing spring break days across the semester, and ramping up prevalence testing. As we progress through the spring, I am optimistic that warmer weather and the availability of protective vaccines will allow the university to start transitioning towards a return to our “next-normal” by fall of 2021. If at all possible, I encourage you to maintain flexibility in your instructional plans to allow us to incorporate more synchronous online and in-person instruction in your courses, if conditions allow.

Finally, if you are able, please take a break during the holidays and enjoy time with family and friends. We still have much to do in service to our students, each other, and the missions of our university in the spring.

Sincerely,

Cyril