As spring break comes to a close, I am reminded of something Lady Vols Coach Pat Summitt used to say: “Buckle-Up Buttercup.” While the last half of the spring semester is filled with celebrating our accomplishments of the academic year, our graduating classes, and the warmer weather in East Tennessee, it is also a stressful time. I hope you were able to take advantage of spring break and catch up on tasks and sleep, as well as take some time for self-care. We are eight weeks out from the end of classes, so, “buckle-up buttercup!”
In other news, the transmission of COVID-19 in Knox County continues to fall dramatically. In fact, in the last week, only five new cases were admitted to local hospitals, according to the CDC data. As I mentioned in last month’s Dialogue, given this decline in cases, many more people in our Volunteer community will choose to wear a mask far less often or not at all. The decision to mask or not to mask is up to individual students, faculty, and staff. We can no longer expect that most people will be masked inside or outside the classrooms. The latest data estimates about a four to five percent transmission rate in our area. If you are concerned, you can protect yourself by continuing to wear a mask indoors and in crowded locations, maintain social distancing, and washing your hands. If you have concerns due to personal or family health issues, please discuss with your department head or immediate supervisor if alternative teaching arrangements are needed.
As you are probably aware, Senate Bill 2290/House Bill 2670 passed in the House March 10. I know several of you are anxious about the bill and its impact on academic freedom. In a note to department heads earlier this month, I reinforced our college mission to uphold the highest standards of academic freedom and integrity and to cultivate in our students the critical thinking skills, intellectual inquiry, and understanding of diverse human culture, lived experiences, and varying viewpoints that are necessary to become engaged global citizens. We are champions of academic freedom for all our faculty members, including those whose teaching and scholarly work confront issues or reflect views that others may deem controversial.
I pledge to support your rights as faculty to teach, write, and speak about pressing issues that impact peoples and society and foster critical thought through the long-cherished spirit of academic discourse, even if that means navigating occasional disagreements.
On that note, there is still time to register for the Pen America event March 31. The workshop, “Creating Classrooms for All: Fostering Open and Respectful Exchange” takes place in the Student Union Thursday, March 31 from 7:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Finally, I am excited about our Spring Fling April 26 and very much look forward to celebrating our many staff and faculty awardees, welcoming new members of our college community, and celebrating the end of another extraordinary year during the time of COVID.
Thank you for all you do for our college and our Volunteer community.
Theresa M. Lee
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences