Dear Students and Families, Staff, and Faculty,
As we wind down spring break and head into the second half of a semester in which we are trying something completely new, we thought it was a good time to share an overview of our work with the entire community. My guess is that in your reading about the COVID-19 pandemic, many of you have come across the phrase “social distancing does not mean social isolation.” This past week has brought us a number of ways in which we are trying to realize that statement. I believe we are doing it with the values and dispositions that I have come to think of as distinctly Middlebury: integrity, rigor, connectedness, curiosity, and openness.
First things first: We want you to know that Middlebury’s Crisis Management Team meets twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, and hears regular briefings from the Vermont Department of Health and Porter Medical Center. At the time of the writing of this letter, we have 15 COVID-19 cases in Addison County. Although there are none on our campus, this week has brought us all closer to the outbreak’s tragedies afflicting family and friends. You and your loved ones are in our hearts and on our minds. We are also connecting with our student, staff, and faculty leadership on a daily basis. I have been inspired by the integrity and rigor of everyone at Middlebury who is coming together to address this global emergency.
What’s Been Happening This Past Week?
Much of our work this week has been focused on staying connected in our learning goals. Faculty and staff have dedicated much time during spring break preparing for academic continuity through remote teaching and learning. DLINQ staff have been providing guidance for faculty on the resources available to them as remote instructors, and resources for students as they become remote learners. We have a group actively addressing student and faculty concerns about online access. And even though they are not able to be physically with them, our deans are always available to our students. Those students who need support of any kind have been reaching out, and we encourage them to continue to do so. In addition, the community—alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff—have come together to create the Student Emergency Fund, which helps us respond quickly to student needs.
To support our hard-working staff, we developed and announced the details of the COVID-19 Pay Bank that will provide continuance of wages in an anxious time, and we will keep staff updated on workforce issues throughout. Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s Stay Home/Stay Safe directive meant we needed to decide who is required to work on campus as essential employees, and what work we needed to accomplish. We continue to evaluate how we can maintain ongoing support for staff as the pandemic evolves. As a precautionary measure, we initiated an immediate hiring freeze and shared with Faculty and Staff Councils, as well as our administrative Leadership Alliance group, our initial assessment of some of the financial challenges that lie ahead.
We have found that our students remain curious and engaged, even during COVID-19 spring break. We have been impressed with how The Campus has continued to publish their usual far-ranging journalism, and encourage you to participate in their remote storytelling project. Students write to us regularly—about academic policies, about how they are coping with being isolated from their classmates and friends, and many other issues. Have a look at the members of Middlebury Discount Comedy singing “Imagine” from their various locations. We continue to connect with our students on campus, sharing program information and physical and mental health resources and protocols. Our CRDs are also in regular contact with all students staying on campus.
Finally, we are being responsive to the community and its needs. We are working with our partners on the economic impact of COVID-19 on the town of Middlebury and Addison County. Our dining services have provided food for a number of local charities, and we have developed a protocol for community requests, whether for food, logistical help, or shelter. We have developed a local information-sharing task force with the town and the medical center. And we are working with UVM/Porter to provide urgently needed temporary housing for a small number of their employees, maximizing safety for all members of the College community.
Many of you have asked how you can help the town, and here are two ways we suggest: The United Way of Addison County is actively working with vulnerable populations to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. In addition, to address the impact on local businesses, the Better Middlebury Partnership has this website where you can buy gift certificates for businesses you love, or for inns and motels if you had to cancel a trip, or are planning a trip in the future.
What Can You Expect in the Week Ahead?
During next week’s start of classes, we want to hear from students, faculty, and staff as we move to teaching remotely. In addition to the remote resources links above, curated especially for this urgent time, we have our DLINQ staff and interns standing by to help. Faculty and staff may contact firstname.lastname@example.org; students may contact email@example.com.
Next week we will be addressing the questions that we know all of you have about plans for the rest of the semester and Commencement. We are taking into consideration the best medical and public health assessments of the timeline of the virus, the State of Vermont’s recommendations, and the many factors of our collective life in this time of emergency. We will share our decisions with you on Thursday, April 2. You will also hear from our EVP for Finance and Administration David Provost early this week about his team’s initial assessment of the financial impact of COVID-19 on Middlebury.
Here’s how Middlebury can continue to remind ourselves that social distancing does not have to mean social isolation: Integrity and rigor in learning. Connectedness in creating new forms of support. Curiosity about others’ experiences through storytelling. Openness to our neighbors in an anxious time. We continue to be amazed and impressed by the work of this community gathering its resources to help maintain these values in this time of need.
Discount Comedy’s virtual rendition of “Imagine” is both whimsical and serious. I think at the deepest level, our students are asking us to imagine differently. I hope all of us can heed that call.