March 12 Message from Provost White to Faculty

March 12, 2020

Dear Faculty,

I will be providing a more detailed update in the next few days outlining things for you to consider as you prepare to resume classes, how we are hoping to support you as we move to offering courses online, and an FAQ covering a variety of issues.

In the meantime, I wanted to share some general thoughts. Facing a global pandemic is no small thing. Some of us are immunosuppressed (or know people who are), we have seen conferences we planned/were looking forward to cancelled, we are concerned for friends and loved ones outside of the US in places acutely affected by COVID-19; we are experiencing general instability in ways great and small. There’s a lot to navigate and figure out. With that in mind, I must thank all of you for how you have been managing the upheaval. You are sharing tips with each other, offering to serve as an expert (or at least experienced) resource. You have been reaching out to students to make sure they are okay and doing the same with my office. That is much appreciated.

I know this is going to be hard for our students who came to Wheaton precisely for the face-to-face, personalized experience we provide. I know that for many of you not being on campus with your students is going to take time to adapt to (if that’s even possible). We are also thinking about what activities and programs we can (re)create that help students — and perhaps you — feel reassured and connected to Wheaton, albeit from afar.

There is no way to replicate what we do here with remote learning. I think it’s wise to approach the rest of the term as a completely different and new kind of semester. I’d advise against trying to retrofit what you currently have but think about reinvention where possible.

For many of you, this will be the first time you are offering courses in an online format. This is a huge shift and may be daunting for some. I was thinking about what I would do in your shoes and intend to channel that feeling as I think about the best ways for me to be of assistance. This is a significant learning curve in a short period of time. So I recommend that you manage your expectations and work with your students to manage theirs. We also need to remember the impact of disruptions on how students will learn. Apart from being online, students are dealing with many other things such as being home earlier than anyone planned for, being here but missing friends, experiencing food or housing insecurity, missing campus events and club activities or the traditions experienced in graduating seniors’ final semester. How students will learn, how they respond to this grand experiment is a major unknown. This also means that we all need to be very flexible regarding how we use and what we learn from course evaluations this semester — particularly for untenured faculty. This is exactly the time to be forgiving of pedagogical risk-taking that doesn’t work. Cut yourselves some slack.

In future communications I will share more about ongoing teaching support, ways to remain connected with your advisees, how we will manage course evaluations, alternatives to Honors Convocation and Academic Festival, and much more. Everyone in my office will be available to partner and brainstorm with you. We won’t have everything figured out because this is a learn-as-we-go reality. So we will share new information via email, through some Google Docs we are preparing, and during occasional optional check-ins via Google Hangouts Meet. The goal here isn’t to inundate you but to make sure you have access to all the information you need.

Expect to be hearing from us a lot for the foreseeable future.

All the best,
Renée T. White