By Dean Christopher P. Long on April 29, 2020 on cplong.org

field of grass covered in flowers

As this disquieting semester comes to a close, it’s appropriate to pause for a moment to reflect on the distance we have traveled and the path that lies ahead.

Over the past five years, we in the College of Arts & Letters at Michigan State University have made intentional efforts to identify the core values that shape our work. In conversations within units across the College, faculty and staff have engaged in a process of self-reflective dialogue about what we value as individuals and as a group. 

Trust grows in such conversations. Values orient us when we are uncertain, empower us when we are hesitant, and draw us together when we are apart.

Let us return, then, to the values that emerged from the conversations we’ve had across the College of Arts & Letters:

The power of values lies in the courage we have to enact them.

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The ingenuity and creativity of leaders across the College—chairs, directors, faculty, staff, and students—in accomplishing the shift to remote education with such generosity and grace was a remarkable achievement. Faculty adjusted their plans, reached out with care and understanding to students, developed innovative ways to meet learning objectives, and took joy in celebrating student accomplishments across the College, including in writingstorytelling, and performance. Staff quickly established a cadence of regular check-ins, supported one another in adopting new technologies, and nurtured connection and community online through “Theme Thursdays” and “Fun Fridays” as they focused on mindfulness practices, explored Strengths Finder, and engaged with the special guests they invited to join them.

In virtual classrooms, one-on-one conversations, and podcasts, students have wrestled with uncertainty, settled into home life and new routines, and juggled the challenges of time management, weak wi-fi, and the absence of private spaces for uninterrupted work. They have also put moving words to this difficult experience and found innovative ways to respond to performances canceledexhibitions without visitorsscreenings deferred, and graduation ceremonies delayed.

Chairs and Directors have worked ceaselessly to attend to the wide variety of sudden needs emerging from all directions. They have reassured students, nurtured community among staff, galvanized faculty support for students in need, and provided invaluable leadership in helping the College live up to its core values in responding to this unprecedented crisis.

The College community did this with agility and integrity even as their responsibilities to care for loved ones at home or at a distance grew in urgency amid intense concerns for health and safety.

For this I am truly grateful.

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The task ahead remains: to be aware of the world we are creating as the world we knew recedes from us. Over the past seven weeks we have begun to shape the more generous, caring, and equitable future we hope to create. The strategy we’ve adopted to cultivate pathways of intellectual leadership across the College will be a catalyst for change. The culture of collaboration we’ve established across the university will empower us to respond to the needs of our students.

Our educational technology team is relying on long-standing trusting partnerships to prepare our faculty and graduate students for online summer teaching and whatever the fall may bring. Our Office of Undergraduate Studies and our advisors are in regular contact with students, identifying those in need and connecting them with MSU Support Our Students (SOS) funds and College emergency funds. We are working closely with Melissa Woo in MSU IT Services and Thomas Jeitschko, Dean of the MSU Graduate School, who have established six Ph.D. level positions in instructional design and technology that will enhance our capacity to bring high-quality educational experiences to undergraduates. In all of this, the Dean’s Office leadership team has been tireless in their effort, expansive in their imagination, discerning in their judgment, and attentive in their care. It is a privilege to work with such committed and conscientious colleagues.

Though the path ahead will be difficult, we can draw courage from the deepening connections we have established during this crisis. Our coordinated efforts, animated by shared values and oriented by a common purpose, will be the rich soil from which a better world takes root and grows.