I have written in past columns about my appreciation for the rhythm of the academic calendar. Typically the second half of the spring semester ramps up with excitement and activity, accompanied by a bit of anxiety and fatigue. I’ve experienced this rhythm as a student, a faculty member and an administrator. The various emotions associated with this time of year, while challenging, have become predictable.
This magazine, with its months-long production calendar, was produced with that reality in mind. And while I hope you enjoy the stories and news we have to share from the first half of the year, I couldn’t let the magazine go to print without acknowledging the profound ways in which our world, and our campus, have changed.
On March 9, in an email to the Whitman community, I outlined the principles we would follow in responding to the crisis as we moved forward. By March 12, the situation had changed so dramatically that we pushed ahead with our announcement that we would move to online learning following spring break. From March 9 through March 18, we sent a message every day, culminating in the March 18 message announcing that we would not be able to hold our traditional commencement ceremony on the date set in May. And then, on March 30, we “returned” from spring break with all classes taught remotely. That’s a period of three weeks. I’ve joked that sometimes it takes those of us in academia that long to decide where to put the commas in a sentence; we’re not known for our speedy response time.
But, faced with a challenge of unprecedented size and scope, the Whitman community came together in truly remarkable ways to advance our mission of student learning. Faculty leadership, with Alzada Tipton at the helm, provided strong and consistent guidance to their colleagues who were shifting their classes to remote-learning formats. Our student affairs team continued supporting students as they decided where to spend the remainder of the semester, while also building out virtual programming to help those students, wherever they landed, maintain a sense of belonging. Kazi Joshua and Thomas Witherspoon and their staffs worked together seamlessly to make sure all students continued to feel supported by the college. Our fundraising team, led by Steve Setchell, reached out to our donors and friends to check in on them and share our deep appreciation for their support. We received consistent praise for our communications to faculty, staff, students and parents, efforts that were guided by Josh Jensen’s team. And, Josh’s admission group created virtual visit days for our admitted students in the Class of 2024 who could no longer visit campus and stayed in constant contact with that important group of prospective Whitties. Peter Harvey’s finance group worked to figure out how to manage our current financial challenges while also modeling what all of this might mean for future budgets. His physical plant and human resources staffs were central to keeping all of us safe and productive. I could not be more proud of the leadership team with whom I work every day and all members of this community who have pulled together during this time of crisis.
Of course, there are still many unknowns. As I write this, nobody knows how long this crisis will continue or how it will impact student enrollment. My most optimistic, hopeful self believes we will be back together on campus in the fall, but I don’t really know that. What I do know for sure is that we will remain true to our mission focused on student learning and to our sense of what makes our Whitman community so special.
Kathleen M. Murray