It has been a busy ten days in the School of Anthropology, and I am writing to provide some key highlights of what has been happening and, especially for those of you who have not been inundated by multiple emails per day, how we are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are committed to ensuring that students complete the semester, take their comprehensive exams and defend their theses and dissertations, and graduate as planned; that research continues; and that no one loses a job or pay because of this emergency. Please note that with this issue we are instituting a new feature, “Reflections on the COVID-19 Pandemic,” for which we are soliciting your stories. As with any items for Anthro News, please send them to Charla. Today we begin with a contribution from me (see below).
Our preparations began Friday afternoon, March 6, when I received word that we must update our Continuity of Operations Plan by today, March 17, and begin to prepare for delivering classes in the face of greater than normal absence. Recognizing that the next step would be moving courses online and that, given the complexity of the School, we needed information from our faculty and graduate students, Rob Schon, our Associate Director; Rayshma Pereira, our manager of administration; and I developed and piloted four surveys to identify both needs and resources—for all the faculty, for instructors, for Principal Investigators and lab directors, and for graduate TAs. By Wednesday, March 11, President Robbins announced that the return from spring break, which was scheduled to take place March 16, would be delayed until March 18 and instructors should move to online instruction wherever possible, until at least April 6. By Friday, March 13, President Robbins announced that all classes must move online and students should not return to campus unless they lacked suitable alternative places to live. We were instructed to adapt as many operations as possible, including research and business/administration, so people could work from home.
Fortunately, thanks to an outstanding and rapid response to our surveys, we were able to use the results to identify areas of concern and resources for addressing those. We identified faculty and graduate students with experience with online instruction, moved a couple of graduate research and teaching associates to new positions, and began sharing resources via email and web conferencing tools. We identified faculty and graduate students willing to serve as mentors for other instructors and as tutors for students having problems, and we are in the process of setting up mechanisms to connect people. All our instructors are prepared for classes to resume on Wednesday and we have established mechanisms for students to take oral comprehensive exams and defend their theses and dissertations virtually. We have already completed the first Ph.D. comprehensive exam under the new circumstances—congratulations to Danielle and her committee!
By Thursday, we also had a survey for our undergraduates to gather information about their needs and concerns going forward. We continue to gather information, but the results of those surveys have enabled us to better understand challenges our students are facing, such as not having computers and/or internet, not having the resources to move out of the dorms, and losing their jobs. As a result, we have identified accounts we can use to provide funding for students who are facing immediate hardship due to the changes being implemented on campus.
Most recently, on Saturday, faculty, staff, and students who were out of the country received emails that they must return to the United States by today, March 17. Thanks to communication from our students and faculty, we have been able to help people determine if coming back is the safest option and are working with administrators to identify appropriate alternatives for each individual.
As we continue to face rapidly evolving circumstances, please know that we will do our best to minimize the negative impacts of these changes and seek solutions that are in the best interests of all involved. If you are in a position to help out, we encourage you to reach out to us and, if possible, donate to a special fund we have established for helping our students most in need respond to the unexpected expenses.
We will keep you updated as the situation evolves.