Chancellor’s Musings

Posted on April 09, 2020

Over the last few weeks, in the face of this historic pandemic, UNCG had to make some quick decisions based on urgent, fast-changing, and unpredictable circumstances. We made decisions without having the luxury of time to fully process long-term consequences. We did so to keep our campus community (and the public) as safe as possible from a dangerous virus.

We asked students to move out of the residence halls on short notice, resulting in people having to make living arrangements on the fly. We shifted almost 100% of our classes online in less than a week, putting a great strain on our faculty and staff. We asked most of our staff to telecommute – creating challenges at home. We had to ask others to keep coming in because they were needed, which generated its own set of questions and concerns. We postponed commencement ceremonies, disrupting the opportunity for our students and their families to celebrate what is a significant accomplishment – getting a college degree (know that we continue to work on plans to honor our 2020 grads). And most recently, we announced that all summer school classes will be online.

I realize this has been more than a bit much. Social distancing is absolutely essential in our fight to protect the health of our community. But, it has also resulted in social disconnect – depriving us of the people and places that keep us energized and motivated, at a time when we need them the most. But the virus made us do it. It doesn’t care about schedules or plans. Nor does it allow certain people to be exempt from its ravages – we are all at risk. The upshot is that decision-making under conditions of great uncertainty is extremely challenging. We are doing our very best to do what is right. But we know that we are far from perfect.

Now, after the initial, chaotic crisis phase, the practical realities are sinking in. Maybe your living situation is less than ideal. Maybe you or a loved one has lost a job or had hours cut. Maybe you are struggling to balance working at home while taking care of your kids at the same time. Maybe living primarily in the virtual world – either by taking online classes or working remotely – is not suited for you. Maybe you live in an area where access to groceries or the internet is limited. Worse still, maybe one of your relatives is vulnerable, and you’re anxious about their health. Maybe you have lost someone. The list is endless.

There are so many aspects of people’s day-to-day realities that have been impacted by COVID-19, which are vivid and personal. In fact, we will all remember these times for the rest of our lives, the same way that other generations remember WWII and Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination, and 9/11. It is on that scale. This is not just a minor inconvenience that has waylaid your graduation or licensure; not just a temporary blip that has disrupted career plans and personal goals. This virus is a formidable foe. It is taking people’s lives. Health care professionals are putting their own lives on the line to care for the sick and keep the rest of us safe. We have seen images and heard stories of our own UNCG nursing grads and other alumni fighting the battle on the front lines. We are inspired by them – and by so many others who are making great sacrifices.

This is as real as it gets.

So, where does this leave us? Well, I’m not certain and I don’t think anyone is. But we must keep moving forward. There will be a post-COVID-19 world. What it will look like, who knows? But one thing I’m sure of: We will ultimately get back to school. Residence halls will open, students and faculty will be back in the classroom, staff will return to campus, events and activities will resume. Games will be played and concerts will be held. Research will get back into full swing and various projects around campus will proceed. Will things be scaled back? Probably. Will that last forever? Probably not.

We in the administration are engaged in a series of scenario-planning activities based on various assumptions. For example, how much lead time do we need to get a currently shuttered campus ready for the next academic year? Given the economic impact, what can we do to continue to support our students, faculty, and staff in the face of potential budget limitations? If students have new and additional barriers to staying in school, what can we do to keep them going? If we have to remain with online courses in the fall, what can we do to better support both students and faculty? We don’t have all the answers, but we are developing what we believe are the right questions.

In the end, the concept of shared fate applies now more than ever. Our futures are inextricably intertwined with one another’s. We need each other. We truly are all in this together. And I want you to know that I have every confidence that our dedicated, well-intentioned, and professional faculty and staff stand ready to deliver on our promise of being a national model for universities blending access, excellence, and opportunity. I also want you to know that my wife Jacquie and I are more committed than ever to serving our University and community.

Students, you didn’t ask for this. You have been compelled to change your expectations, alter your reality, and rethink your plans in ways that feel scary, unfair, and sometimes overwhelming.  I am proud of what I have seen from you in the face of these challenges. And yet, even now, I hope that you understand there is a significant role for you as we move forward. I encourage you to maintain your passion, focus, and drive to get to the finish line. I urge you to summon the strength that I know you have deep down inside to forge ahead in the face of uncertainty. You can become a defining generation in the history of this University.

Thank you, and as always: Go Spartans!

Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr.