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Supporting Students

First, thank you all for the incredible work you have done so far in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Adaptability is one of the tools our students have in their toolbox when they graduate, and you have taught them those skills. During this time, all of us will be tested in our ability to adapt to an ever-changing landscape.

Provost Manderscheid sent a message of hope to campus leaders earlier this week and referenced this essay by Gretchen Schmelzer, which encourages all of us to think bigger than ourselves. As Volunteers, we have a knack for putting others first, but during this pandemic, is it imperative we see ourselves as part of a much bigger community.

During the past week, each one of you have shown your compassion and flexibility. I have every confidence that you will continue to be creative and always ask what is best for our students, faculty, and staff and how can we make that happen.

Can we make this Rocky Top’s finest hour?

Our primary goal after spring break is to help our students continue their coursework and finish the semester. I encourage you to think creatively about how you can take your classroom online and engage your students through virtual learning. The UT Office of Information Technology posted resources for how to teach remotely. Your departmental and college leadership are here to help you with any questions or address concerns. Our focus is to be as generous as possible and not disrupt a student’s ability to graduate. Please have both sympathy and empathy for the students and patience with yourselves.

As you start your Canvas-based/Zoom-based efforts, be sure you are prepared to email students quickly if something is not working and you are in a synchronized situation – and tell students to do likewise. I have every expectation that next week will be a “rocky” start, but if we persist, we can make it work well enough for our students to complete the semester.  

While campus remains open, staff members should discuss with supervisors their location and manner of work during the quarantine period. If you are sick, running a fever, or have a compromised immune system, please stay home and let your supervisor know you are ready to work from home. If you feel the need to self-quarantine, please talk to your supervisor and arrange to work remotely. The Chancellor’s website provides further direction. Your department leadership and staff in my office will be watching for emails and phone calls that require our attention, so please be in communication as needed.

Rocky Top HandwashingOf course, washing your hands and practicing social distancing are two of the most important ways to stay safe during this time. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends keeping a minimum of six feet between people. You should also scrub your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds before rinsing to prevent the spreading of germs, which is just enough time to sing the chorus of “Rocky Top” twice! Do so multiple times per day or use hand sanitizer (if you are so fortunate as to have some).

Thank you for your patience, understanding, and support for our students and our campus community during this uncertain time. If you have any questions about COVID-19 and UT’s response, please visit the online resource for continuous updates.

Please take care of yourself and those around you. We will get through this together.


Theresa M. Lee
Dean, College of Arts & Sciences