Dear Members of the Teachers College Community,
Odd as it may seem, as I write to you this evening, I find several reasons to celebrate:
First, I can’t wait until tomorrow night at 8 p.m., when our entire TC family comes together at our virtual Convocation to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of our graduates. While we all wish we could celebrate Convocation together in person, I promise that tomorrow night’s program not only will entertain, move, and inspire all of you, but also will include some big surprises to which even I am not privy.
Second, we have reached the end of a winter/spring term unlike any we’ve ever known. While we continue to face significant challenges and much uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead, the semester has been a success in the face of adversity thanks to the combined efforts of our faculty, our staff, and our students. You have pushed yourselves and rallied one another to do whatever needed to be done in order to keep TC caring, strong, and focused on its teaching, research, and public service mission. I will always be grateful to you for that.
Under these circumstances, making it this far in pretty good shape is not just a cause for celebrating. It’s also a really good reason to give yourselves much needed breaks and vacation time. Yes, we have lots of work to do and many virtual miles of uncharted territory to travel to prepare for whatever the fall and winter/spring terms will look like. (I will have more to say about planning for the future in a moment.) But seriously: There is no reason for anyone – anyone – to forego the time off that is due. I, for one, am looking forward to our first “summer Friday” on May 22, and encourage all of you to unwind and enjoy a longer holiday weekend.
Finally, I am celebrating because of the progress we’ve already made toward ensuring that Teachers College remains strong through the duration of the pandemic and emerges a stronger and even more consequential and caring institution.
As I shared in my May 1 COVID-19 update, we have formed a number of working groups charged with expediting time-sensitive work and top-priority projects that cut across functional areas of the College. One of these working groups, chaired by Janice Robinson, Vice President for Diversity and Community Affairs, is planning for all contingencies for the fall term and beyond. We know many of you are anxious to know what the fall will look like at TC. So are we! But we have to prepare for many different scenarios. As many of you know, colleges and universities in New York State are governed by the NY State Education Department (NYSED), which approves academic programs as either “face to face” or “distance learning.” In March, NYSED issued a waiver that allowed for all programs to be offered virtually during the current Spring term, and they followed suit by issuing a similar blanket waiver for Summer. However, NYSED has not yet indicated whether it will extend that waiver through the fall term.
As soon as we have more information about what will be possible – from a public health perspective, a regulatory perspective, and more – we will share that information with you. In the meantime, Janice and her group are addressing a range of issues, such as: how to keep students, staff, and faculty safe when we are able to return to campus in some way; and increasing the number of rooms that could allow for the simultaneous teaching of students who are physically present and those who are not.
Other working groups have made progress tackling more time-sensitive issues and near-term topics. These include:
- A working group chaired by Michael Feierman, our General Counsel, which will soon issue recommendations for the College to be fully compliant in distributing CARES Act funds to our students who have experienced the most disruption from the current crisis.
- A working group on enrollment marketing (chaired by Enrollment Marketing Director Brooks Terry), which has identified a number of ways that we can better market our programs during this time, both to minimize any erosion in fall enrollments and to highlight innovative College programs that prepare students for the current crisis.
- A working group chaired by Associate General Counsel Althea Broomfield-Michel, which has worked to identify existing grants and contracts that may be affected by the crisis, and has established parameters for working with funders and recipients in order mitigate and resolve issues that may arise.
In addition, two working groups have focused on cost management in an uncertain environment. One group, chaired by Katie Embree, is looking to identify processes and efficiencies for reducing expenses and producing ongoing cost savings for the College, including how to minimize or eliminate unnecessary expenditures, such as duplicative memberships and subscriptions. The second group, chaired by Lisa Seales, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, has been examining administrative personnel costs with an eye to supporting all members of our community – even during times when job duties may not be possible to carry out.
Two working groups have a longer-range timeline and are focused on maintaining excellence across all of our academic programs. One group, chaired by Veronica Thomas, Director of the Office of Digital Learning, and receiving leadership and guidance from Professors Lalitha Vasudevan and Charles Lang (by virtue of their expertise and work on College-wide digital initiatives), is working to shift the College’s focus from what we have been calling “emergency online teaching” to achieving excellence in digital learning. This group will establish norms and expectations for online courses, create development opportunities for faculty with varying levels of digital proficiency, and propose solutions to all challenges associated with digital learning. The other group, chaired by Professor Debra Noumair, is thinking about how TC can provide needed thought leadership in fields responding to this crisis.
Finally, a group chaired by our Senior Director of College Events Planning, Trish McNicholas – who so capably demonstrates her ability to care for and celebrate all members of our community through events (both live and virtual) – will continue to explore new ways for all of us to take care of one another during this time. As members of the College community continue to go above and beyond the scope of their jobs, this group will find new ways to boost morale and to foster a sense of community over the summer and beyond.
I am very grateful both to everyone who is serving on these working groups, and to those who are working with them to help TC navigate through this uncertain time. As I have said before, I am confident that we will emerge from this crisis a stronger College, and a more cohesive and caring community.
In the meantime, let’s celebrate our 2020 graduates, and enjoy a long, restful Memorial Day weekend.
President, Teachers College