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Reflecting on the Past Year

flowering treeIt has been one year since our lives were upended by the global coronavirus pandemic. At this time last year, we were encouraging everyone to sing “Rocky Top” while washing hands and trying to figure out how to create space in our home lives for our work lives. A temporary situation? Maybe. I do not think any of us expected to be still working and learning mostly from home a year later. 

I have said it a thousand times and I will say it a thousand more – thank you. Thank you for your patience, your adaptability, your courage, and your innovation during the past year as we all navigated and adjusted to the “new” normal. Many of our staff, faculty, and students have survived serious illness for themselves or family and friends. And our extended community has lost loved ones, for whom our collective ability to provide comfort to the survivors has been difficult because of COVID restrictions. I hope as spring is emerging, so is new hope for the future. And I pray that we all find some comfort in the warm memories of those who left us in the past year. 

With the quickening pace of vaccination and the growing number of opportunities to be vaccinated, it appears that everyone over 16 years of age will have the opportunity to be vaccinated by early summer. Thus, the campus leadership, based on current expectations, is planning for a full return to campus this fall. While the campus is being returned to a more normal state, summer classes will occur online. I hope everyone, for whom it is safe, will seek out vaccination before the fall semester begins. Should the pandemic take an unexpected turn (for example because of the variants), the campus will respond as needed following the best scientific evidence.

March may mark the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, but it is also Women’s History Month and a time to celebrate the contributions of women in history and contemporary society. Several events on campus are organized to honor Women’s History Month, including Picture a Scientist panel discussion, Exploring Inequities in Education, and the Women of Color Empowerment Summit. For more information about these and other events, visit the UT events calendar at

Speaking of upcoming events, you have probably noticed a new series of emails arriving in your inbox each week announcing upcoming events in the College of Arts and Sciences. We hope this is a useful tool for you to plan your week and learn more about events your colleagues organize. If you have an event, please make sure it is posted to the UT events calendar in order for it to be included in the upcoming events weekly email. 

Finally, I know email fatigue is a concern and sometimes it seems we will never get to the bottom of our inboxes. To address this issue in the college, I have formed a committee to develop a process for streamlining as much email as possible. The committee is also charged with creating a culture of communication within the college by creating a regular communication structure between the college communications team and individuals within the departments who engage in various forms of communications. College and department leadership will share more information about these developments as they become available. 

Spring begins Saturday, March 20 and, along with allergies, it is a time for new beginnings. As the jonquils bloom and the trees begin to bud, I hope you get an opportunity to step outside, feel the sun on your face, and the sense of hope this season can bring. 


Theresa M. Lee
Dean, College of Arts & Sciences