Crossing the Finish Line

Posted on November 23, 2020 by Meredith Woo

Dear Colleagues,

As you wrap up the fall semester, I want to take a moment to thank you for getting our students across the finish line. None of us – or anyone else in the country for that matter – had any experience of the pandemic, let alone of fulfilling our obligation to students in the midst of it. Many colleges either took what seemed the easy way out by going remote, or made mistakes when bringing students back and had to correct themselves mid-course. In American higher education there was a lot of “learning by doing,” and there will be more doing and more learning in the months to come.

What you have accomplished was not easy. I know that the joy you derive from interacting with the students was compromised – try speaking through the masks for an hour! – and students were often not in their best and happiest state. One student wrote to me that she could see “…all of the hard work they put into teaching us. I myself have not made their job any easier.” She added that “…even though this was my worst academic semester, they still did their best for me.”

One of the defining features of a liberal arts college is the proximity between the faculty and student as the basis for learning. Imparting drills and rote-learned skills do not require this proximity and can be conducted efficiently enough online, but not your job, which is to show them through example and interaction what it means to think – critically, causally, and in context. I am both proud of your accomplishment this semester, and deeply grateful for it.

Machiavelli said that it was “Fortuna” that yielded greatest dominion over human affairs. So, we delivered health and safety for students and with a bit of Fortuna, got them home in the nick of time as other campuses are scrambling to manage student departures.

There is much to celebrate this Thanksgiving. One of them is the job well done, making a difference in the lives of our students. Thank you.

I wish you all a safe, happy, and restful break.

Meredith Woo