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President’s spring message to the Stanford community

Categories: Help & support, Leadership communications, President

Dear members of our Stanford community,

It is my custom to send a message to our community at the start of each quarter. In normal times, this provides an opportunity to celebrate the joy of everyone converging back on campus, energized by a restorative break, and fueled with excitement as classes resume.

On this occasion, however, very little seems normal. Our spring quarter begins online, and at a challenging moment for everyone in our community, as we each navigate significant upheaval in our personal, academic and professional lives. And so, my message today is about our university’s commitment to supporting you through this strange and disrupted time.

In difficult moments like this one, we must seek comfort where we can. I hope that you have already found some in the familiar — in your family, friends, or in the places you grew up or call home. But I also hope that as this new quarter begins, you find some solace in engaging, as best you can, with your chosen field of work or study. With so much upheaval over the last couple weeks, I hope that reconnecting with your work brings you a sense of normalcy and reassurance and that you have the chance to find inspiration in new ideas and perspectives.

Our faculty have worked hard to make this a fulfilling and enriching quarter for learners in all disciplines. I’m excited by the creative ways they will be introducing course material to our students. For example, students in an ITALIC seminar will collaborate to design an educational art magazine for Bay Area high school students. A geological sciences course has mailed all students the pieces used in chemistry sets to build crystal structures — a physical project they can work on together, despite the distance. I hope you find these new modes of learning invigorating, and that they offer you new ways of looking at your studies.

While our physical campus is quiet, our digital campus is thriving. Many groups and organizations across the university have put material online to supplement your learning and your well-being throughout the spring quarter. The Cantor Arts Center, the Anderson Collection, and the David Rumsey Map Center are all offering virtual tours of their collections. Stanford Live has shared a “digital season” on its website, featuring many of the artists who were scheduled to perform on campus this quarter. The Office for Religious Life is providing daily reflections, regular opportunities for virtual gatherings, and other opportunities to connect. I am confident this is just a start, and that we will see many other offerings brought to life by members of our community as the quarter progresses.

I also encourage you to engage with campus resources that help sustain the emotional health of our community, should you need additional help during this difficult time. The pandemic has affected each of us personally but in various ways. I’m conscious that, for many in our community, sheltering in place means increased family responsibilities — such as caring for loved ones or homeschooling children — and less time to focus on your studies or work. For others, the isolation may feel overwhelming, especially in this time of increased anxiety, when we need one another more than ever.

I urge all of you to use technology to remain connected to your friends, mentors, and colleagues. I also encourage you to share your challenges with your instructors, department chairs, or managers, who can help you find ways to remain connected to your work and studies as you manage additional obligations at home. And no matter what difficulties you face, we are here to support you. CAPS remains available to students 24/7 by phone, and in some cases video, and is also available to assist students in finding care in their home communities. Clinicians from Confidential Support Team and the Weiland Health Initiative are available to connect with students through virtual platforms. In addition, well-being coaches are available for you, no matter where you are residing. The Faculty Staff Help Center remains open and available to connect remotely with faculty, staff, and postdocs.

In addition to our other campus resources, we will continue to offer you ways throughout the quarter to remain closely connected with Stanford leadership. This afternoon at 2 p.m. PDT, Provost Persis Drell and I will host a Zoom-based conversation with the university community about the COVID-19 crisis and Stanford’s response. I hope you will join us.

Many people have asked me when we’ll be able to reopen our campus and research labs, and have students, faculty, and staff all back at Stanford. We don’t have an answer to that, yet — much will depend on the evolution of the coronavirus pandemic in the coming weeks, and on the guidance of public health officials. For now, we are most focused on safeguarding the health of our community; maintaining our operations as best we can, and contributing to the pandemic response through clinical care and research.

However, as I announced in my message a couple weeks ago, I am convening a Recovery Team focused on how to bring the campus back to a new normal and on longer-term questions about the aftermath of this crisis. The coronavirus pandemic is one of the most challenging public health crises of our lifetimes. Its aftermath, and the social upheaval it has caused, will be difficult, too. Our world will be different when this is over, in ways large and small.

But we will also learn a great deal: about pandemic response; about the nature of our interconnected world; about our innate social needs; and about the opportunities and challenges associated with online learning, telemedicine, and remote work. It will be up to all of us to consider how we can take these lessons and use them to make our world better, and how Stanford can best contribute to the world that emerges.

There is no doubt that this is a challenging moment for our community. Provost Drell’s message last Thursday outlined some of the serious financial impacts that COVID-19 will have on our university. We will face tough choices in the coming months as we steer Stanford through this downturn and work to sustain our mission of teaching and research.

But through this difficult time, Stanford’s purpose, to pursue knowledge for the benefit of humanity and the world, has never been more important. I am certain that, with our shared resolve and Stanford’s collective ingenuity, we will emerge from this moment stronger, with new ways of thinking, learning, and working together.

I want to close, once more, by expressing my gratitude to each of you for your patience, your understanding, and your partnership as we navigate this difficult time together. I am deeply grateful to all who are working and learning at a distance, as well as to those whose work continues to bring them to campus and to our hospitals. I look forward to the day when we are all together once more. But while physical distance is necessary, the work of the university continues. I wish you all the best for a quarter that is as enriching and fulfilling as it can be despite the circumstances, and I hope that we all remain closely connected, personally and intellectually.

Best wishes,