UMS Community –
In the normal rhythm of a Maine spring, an overnight snow followed by afternoon sun and temperatures near 50 degrees would probably be more notable than our faculty and students returning to classes after Spring Break. But these are anything but normal times. And tomorrow’s resumption of classes will be unlike anything before in the history of our universities.
The Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic has literally upended our lives and work, and the news of its spread grows more troubling every day. While there is normally nothing more important than our students’ academic progress and achievement, the quickly emerging public health crisis demanded our sober but responsible decisions two weeks ago to immediately transition to online and other distance learning modalities and significantly reduce our on-campus population. These actions were necessary to protect the health and safety of our communities and blunt the spread of the virus. Since then, we’ve also begun working with the Maine Emergency Management Agency, committing our expertise and statewide resources directly to the pandemic fight wherever we can do so responsibly.
In any other time, the public health emergency declarations and shelter-in-place orders in effect across the state and country now would have made it impossible for our students to continue their education. Suddenly halting in-class instruction and emptying our campuses in such times would have meant all learning stopped too, threatening the life-changing degree aspirations of tens of thousands of students.
But all of this occurs in a digital epoch in which most of us carry a cellphone that by itself has more computer processing power than NASA used to land astronauts on the moon. Further still, with nothing more than an available wifi signal, digital connectivity and interactive communication are omnipresent, instantaneous, and global. With these tools in our digital age, we have the ability and opportunity to continue providing world-class liberal arts, humanities, science and engineering, and applied knowledge for our students even as the current pandemic prevents us from gathering together in a traditional classroom to do it.
This all starts tomorrow for most of us. Let me acknowledge that this has not been easy to get ready for; it won’t be easy to do. For many of you, and for many of our students too, I suspect, the learning modalities we’ll use to finish this semester would not be your first choice. We’ll have technology challenges too, no doubt, and perhaps more things will go wrong than we anticipated. I hope we’re patient with each other, and I hope we learn quickly from our mistakes, adapting with flexible solutions that put our students first.
For all of us, though, let’s do what we do best in higher education — let’s learn from our experiences over the rest of the semester. When the pandemic subsides and we’re back in the classroom, let’s consider which of the academic innovations that got us through this semester should carry on.
One thing I do know — we will get through this together, and in the effort, we’ll give our students meaningful learning opportunities that advance their academic progress, preparing them to be flexible in an ever-changing world.
Let me close by acknowledging your hard work and resilience. Please accept my humble thanks and deep gratitude, here and now, before classes start back up. The goodwill, creativity, and academic innovation I’ve seen across our System over the last two weeks convinces me that we can rise to any challenge to serve our students and State.
While the times are difficult, I’m glad we’re in this together. Good luck tomorrow.