Last month, I acknowledged that we were as prepared as we could be to welcome a new group of students and start a new academic year. Today, we are four weeks into the fall semester and I want to say thank you for the efforts each of you have made to get us to this point. We still have a long way to go until final exams and the winter break, but we have managed the transition to online, hybrid, or socially distanced face-to-face classes with grace and compassion for our students and our Volunteer community.
With the increase in positive cases among our student population, I know it is not getting any easier to conduct classes or to keep students engaged. Wearing masks and remaining at least six feet apart in the classroom has the potential to make teaching difficult, especially when we think about the challenges we have all faced during the past year. To help our students succeed, please remember to record class meetings and make them accessible for those who are unable to attend in person. The Division of Student Success published this Online Academic Success Guide with helpful tips for your students. Please share it with them and remind them we are all in this together.
To help you – our instructors who are on the front lines of education at UT – the team of faculty development professionals with the Teaching and Learning Innovation (TLI) unit have several resources and support opportunities to assist you this semester. Learn more on their website at teaching.utk.edu. As in the spring, we may have to reduce our research and creative activities in order to make it through this semester with as much grace and success as possible. Thank you for keeping our students at the top of your priority list.
During the past several months, staff in the UT Office of Human Resources have been compiling a list of resources to support the ongoing needs of our employees, including an updated guide to personal and professional resources. If you need help meeting the demands of work or coping with uncertainties as a result of the ongoing pandemic, please reach out to your department head, supervisor, or co-worker. Vols helping Vols is not just a tagline – it’s what we do.
When I am on campus, I am happy to see that, overall, students, faculty, and staff are wearing masks, maintaining physical distance, and following the necessary sanitizing precautions needed to keep Vols safe. As the muggy Appalachian summers begin to fade into breezy fall days, I expect we will see more people taking advantage of the outdoor spaces popping up around campus. If you are on campus, I encourage you to take a break and enjoy the space while continuing to wear your mask and stay socially distant if others are around.
On a different note, I am thrilled with the response we have received from our College Conversations: Allyship and Antiracism series, which features faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences whose research focuses on identifying racism, how to become an effective antiracist, and other topics related to allyship and antiracism. In addition, we are co-hosting the Cost of Hate Symposium, a three-part panel discussion series examining the cost to society of group-focused hatred. I encourage you to register for these important discussions and learn what each of us can do to make a positive contribution to the current discourse in our society.
Finally, I want to share information from the Baker Center about the Vols Vote Coalition, a group of individuals and UT organizations who want to ensure our Volunteer community has access to nonpartisan information on voting. Early voting begins in less than a month and the November election will be here before we know it. Please encourage your students to learn more about how they can have a voice in our democracy.
I know we all have a lot of uncertainties on the road ahead of us, but there is one thing we do know – we know what it takes to stop the spread of COVID-19 and that is wearing a mask. Let’s join together and continue to keep Rocky Top safe by wearing a mask to starve the virus. Thank you for all you do for our Volunteer community.
Theresa M. Lee
Dean, College of Arts & Sciences