Dear Members of the Teachers College Community,
One year ago today, Teachers College began operating remotely as part of a two-day pilot. We had planned to resume normal operations the following week (which also was spring break for our students and faculty).
At that moment, we all were still learning about what was called, fittingly, the “novel coronavirus.” Just the day before, the World Health Organization had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. None of us could have projected the severity or duration of the pandemic, or its impact on our city, region, and lives.
All of that changed quickly. Two days later, New York City recorded its first COVID-related death. Six days later, we learned that community transmission of COVID-19 was widespread throughout the city. Seven days later, we made the difficult decision that we would need to begin relocating students from our residence halls for their safety. Eight days later, I was further saddened to announce the cancellation of our in-person May graduation ceremonies in order to eliminate any risk of widespread transmission from a single large gathering.
During those early weeks, our entire community rallied to do all that was necessary to execute the transition to online instruction, to keep our teaching and research enterprise on track, and to keep all of our people, including our remaining students on campus and our essential staff who continued to come to the campus, healthy, safe, and connected to one another. We also hoped during those early weeks that the pandemic would subside sometime in the near future, and that all of the measures and sacrifices we undertook would make our community and institution stronger, nimbler, more innovative, and more resilient.
In hindsight, we can say that our hopes were half-realized. Due to forces beyond our control, the coronavirus never went away. Each time we seemed to get closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel kept getting longer with each new wave of infections and COVID-related hospitalizations and tragic deaths.
But the other hope has been realized: In almost every way, we have become stronger, nimbler, more innovative, and more resilient. We came together as colleagues and as a community to keep our spirits high and to watch out for one another.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, I shared the following observations about every part of our TC community:
Faculty have taken to digital instruction with skill, aplomb, and often enthusiasm. Students have weathered the disruptions to their routines and very lives with exceptional patience, understanding, resilience, and courage. And our staff – so many of you, particularly our teams in IT, student affairs, residential services, facilities, and public safety – have been working virtually 24/7 to keep both our College running well and our TC community safe and healthy. We are particularly grateful to those of you who continue to travel to our campus in order to maintain our facilities and serve the students who have no other place to go and still live in our residences. But all of you collectively have performed superbly to preserve our academic and administrative ecosystem.
Those words rang true then. Those words ring no less true today. None of this could have happened without you.
Even as we acknowledge the physical and psychological toll the pandemic has had on our lives – and even as we mourn the loss of more than 500,000 fellow Americans and nearly 2.6 million people worldwide – we finally have reasons for cautious optimism. With mass vaccinations accelerating daily, we can begin planning for a gradual return to a semblance of “normal” in-person activities come the fall – provided we do not succumb to “pandemic fatigue” and drop our guard in the meantime.
At the same time, there is no question that the pandemic has taken a heavy emotional, physical, and psychological toll on all of us. Indeed, it is nearly impossible to imagine anyone among us who has not struggled with anxiety, stress, fear, loneliness, grief, or depression. (There have been many days when I, too, have felt overwhelmed.)
If you or a loved one is suffering emotionally or psychologically, please do not hesitate one minute longer to seek help. TC offers a variety of mental wellness services and resources to support you and your families. Along with our Employee Assistance Program for full-time employees, you can access resources and supports for students, faculty, and staff here and here. In addition to emotional health counseling and support, we offer other resources, which include: strategies for reducing anxiety and stress; tips for keeping physically active; and recommendations for maintaining structure and work-life balance while working remotely.
It is so important that each of us takes care of ourselves, and that we look out for one another. Please take time to rest and recharge, whether by connecting with family and friends, by exercising, by taking up a new or long-neglected pastime, or spending time outdoors. And I strongly encourage managers and staff alike to plan for taking your well-earned vacation days over the next six months.
To help get everyone in the proper “work-life balance” frame of mind – and in appreciation of everyone’s excellent work and sacrifices over the past year – I am pleased to announce that the College not only will resume “Summer Fridays” in 2021, but this year we will also begin observing them during the first week of May. From May 7 through September 3, the College’s official business hours of operation will be 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Monday through Thursday, and 9:00 am-1:00 pm on Fridays.
I am further pleased to announce that the College will be closed on three consecutive Fridays in July: July 2, 9, and 16.
And finally, as a reminder, the College will be closed on Friday, June 18, in observance of Juneteenth, which falls on that Saturday this year.
Again, I am incredibly grateful for your hard work and the sacrifices that you have made in order to keep our community together and College strong. You have more than earned this extra time for yourselves.
At some point, COVID-19 will be conquered, and we will all be happy and relieved to see each other again on campus. In the meantime, please remember: Your well-being remains my highest priority. I hope it will be everyone’s.
President, Teachers College