Dear Emerson Community,
I am writing to provide you with an update on several College activities.
The campus is strangely quiet, somnolent.
The absence of the hustle and bustle of faculty, staff and students moving up and down Boylston, Tremont, and Washington streets, or walking diagonally from the Little Building to Ansin and elsewhere is disconcerting, even sad.
I miss our students, variously and uniquely arrayed, always in motion, talking and gesturing to each other, an embodiment of the creativity and individuality of our College. I miss the rhythmic music and the dance of it.
Our daily routines and ways of learning, teaching and working have been upended.
Students are challenged by their efforts to learn and remain engaged in an online environment as distractions and the strangeness of the conversion of living rooms, bedrooms and even kitchen tables into classrooms compete for the fullness of their attention. Not an insignificant number of them study in very small and cramped quarters – an apt reminder that not all is as it should be in this land of plenty.
Faculty face similar difficulties as the absence of a predictable and well-ordered work day contends with daily family obligations, including young children who expect a parent’s undivided attention.
The challenges that the faculty and our students face – both groups unmoored from the familiar and useful tools and settings of the classrooms, libraries, studios and rehearsal spaces – are profound. Nevertheless, they have risen to meet these challenges head on with creativity, innovation, inventiveness and a fierce determination.
Our staff have been heroic. They have rolled up their sleeves to ensure that teaching, learning and business continuity are uninterrupted. I have been especially impressed by the staff who have accepted the call, wherever possible, to take on new responsibilities that match available work with available talent.
Yes, it is undeniably a strange time. However, it is also time in which the bravery and strength of our common humanity is visible everywhere.
This can also be a time for a bit of personal inventiveness to temper the acute isolation we all feel and experience. Call, text or write to a friend whom you have not contacted for a long time. I received several of these calls the past two weeks and each greatly boosted my spirit. Try something entirely new or do something that you’ve wanted to do or have put off. Revisit that great novel or memoir or poem you never finished. Shoot an iPhone film and share it with friends. Record a karaoke with friends, family or do it solo and send it to someone. Write or film yourself lip-synching a song. Cook something special for your family or yourself or create a new recipe. Meditate. Take online exercise, dance or yoga classes. Or sleep in, wear sweats, re-watch those ultra-sentimental shows and movies that bring you joy. Most important, be kind to yourself because we are all seeking comfort in our isolation during these uncertain and weird times. And, of course, if you aren’t moved to do any of these, don’t.
The Challenge Ahead
The U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, recently said the coronavirus pandemic is the greatest challenge that the world has faced since the Second World War.
I need not tell you that we are living in an unprecedented time in history that will define an entire generation of people living through it. Its impact will be felt across distant shores and on every continent. This global pandemic is not something to be “fixed,” but something to be endured as cities, nations and institutions of all types struggle to dig out of this calamity – not in a single year, but likely over multiple years.
The last several weeks have been focused on attending to immediate needs, such as moving students off campus, rearranging staff work and functions, creating remote courses and communicating frequently and accurately to our students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni.
Now, we can begin to turn our attention to identifying, as best we can, the magnitude of the financial and human impact on the entire Emerson community. This task will be undertaken dutifully, deliberately, methodically and thoughtfully as the senior administration works in conjunction with the considerable financial expertise and talent represented on the Emerson Board of Trustees. It will not be an easy undertaking, but it will succeed.
As we move forward, we will, of course, engage faculty, staff and students in this process because it will require the good thinking and ingenuity of our entire community. All three groups represent significant and valued resources for solving difficult problems and finding good solutions.
I love Emerson College. My job, echoing the words of the late Congressman Elijah Cummings, is to keep our College intact – during and after this crisis. A central principle and value expressed in all that we do at Emerson is our commitment to the common good – to our comity.
It is important to be reminded that the impact of this pandemic is not simply a faculty or student or staff issue. On the contrary, it is an Emerson College issue. It is my hope – and firmly held belief – that our community will meet the consequences of the pandemic with resolve. We will create outcomes that turn challenges into opportunities. In doing so, we will reinforce the ideal of one Emerson – not several fiefdoms acting in self-interest alone and in conflict with each other – recognizing that the latter is a sure path to discordant failure.
Yet, with an eye on the larger context of the pandemic, we cannot look out from our luxurious shelter as mere spectators to the human wreckage left in the wake of COVID-19. In addition to the many people who have succumbed to this terrible and unforgiving disease, 10,000,000 Americans lost their jobs in a two-week period in March or put another way, these two weeks reversed the entire job growth of the last five years. These losses are not merely numbers – these are real people, many with families and young children to support. It is unprecedented and its impact has cascaded mercilessly through the economy, especially, but not exclusively, on low wage earners. No doubt, current and prospective students and families will be seeking our help to ensure that their children may begin or continue their education at Emerson.
Big challenges require big solutions. Much is at stake.
This is not a time for fear-mongering or divisive rhetoric. Rather it is a time for looking through the confusion of the moment with the noble aim to make an honest appraisal of the pandemic’s impact on our College. And while we recognize both our strengths and our weaknesses, we set about working together, where we can, to improve our College and, above all, to keep it intact.
If there was ever a time in the history of our College where we need to come together, work together and pray together, this is it. If we meet our challenges head on with mutual aid and mutual purpose, honesty, integrity and a commitment to doing what’s right, we will reach the other side of this terrible crisis.
This pandemic will end and when it does, I am confident that we will be stronger on the other side of it.
I am excited to begin this important journey with you in the days ahead, even as I ask in advance for your patience and forbearance.