KEEPING AN EYE ON OUR STRATEGIC PRIORITIES IN THE MIDST OF A PANDEMIC
Countless letters have been written to the university community during the past months; however, this marks my first Open Dore Newsletter of the new academic year. Back in 2015, I named this column The Open Dore to reinforce my intent to always have an open door to feedback and collaboration. It also recognizes the critical role our faculty and staff play in opening doors for discovery, creative expression and our students’ academic success – opening doors in order to open minds to all that is possible.
In the midst of a global pandemic and continued racial and social injustice, there has never been a more important time to ensure we are united in our mission and acting on input to be as attentive as possible to the health and wellbeing of our university community. We have made strong, consistent progress in learning how to study and work in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic since May 18th when we launched the university’s Phase 1 activities and resumption of many on-campus in-person activities. And, we are keenly focused on advancing new initiatives to address equity, diversity and inclusion as outlined in our July 1st statement. Now, we must continue to build and strengthen our partnerships across the university community. And, we need to look forward and seize opportunities to act on our longer-term strategic priorities.
With the fall term underway, we are continually adjusting and reacting quickly to COVID-related developments, as well as undertaking proactive planning. This includes developing options for a modified spring calendar. I launched a process this week (see sidebar) that will take into consideration learnings from the start of the fall semester, current public health, VUMC and School of Nursing guidance, and models relative to the pandemic’s status. With input from representative stakeholders, our goal is to release any updates to the spring 2021 academic calendar in early October.
Some might wonder: in the midst of a such challenges, how do we keep our eye on priorities in the Academic Strategic Plan? Vanderbilt’s mission of learning and discovery is heightened at times like this, when our community and society need us most. It’s a time to challenge ourselves to think more broadly about ways to achieve and advance key pillars of our Academic Strategic Plan. A key priority for the coming year is to appoint a new dean of the graduate school, who will also hold the title of vice provost for graduate education. A robust search is underway to identify a leader who’s poised to take our already thriving programs to the next level of excellence, building off Vanderbilt’s recent, significant investments in graduate education.
Additional strategic priorities that are top-of-mind this academic year include capitalizing on next generation education technologies, investing in faculty inclusive excellence, planning for future trans-institutional program initiatives and enriching the student experience.
To combat racism and injustice, the Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence continues to implement educational initiatives such as race, unconscious bias and social injustice workshops for leaders across campus. Most recently, Vice Provosts Robinson and Christiansen collaborated on a training session for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions staff as they begin the evaluation process for the Class of 2025, a group of applicants who will have experienced unprecedented disruptions to their high school studies. Working with the Center for Teaching and the Office of Faculty Affairs, a learning community is being organized on “Teaching and Race” for 2020-21 and an updated toolkit created for inclusive faculty searches. A new web portal is also now available to help students, faculty, postdoctoral scholars and staff access key equity, diversity and inclusion resources and activities.
The pandemic and societal unrest due to racial injustice have disproportionately impacted various segments of our community, and for some, has made managing everyday life extremely complicated. Health, early career and women and family disparities are more apparent now than ever. I am charging the WAVE Council to continue their work this year addressing these important issues and examining our internal practices, culture and support structures to ensure all are able to thrive regardless of gender.
We reached a vital turning point last month as we welcomed many students, staff and faculty back to campus. I am deeply grateful to each of you for your tireless efforts focused on planning and executing our Return to Campus plan and in working to foster a welcoming and supportive environment for our students, faculty and staff of color. Protecting against a pandemic and ensuring racial and social justice are perhaps the hardest set of coincident actions we have ever undertaken as a university and a society. In spite of the persistent challenges, we must leverage our knowledge and our One Vanderbilt approach to advance our work and not back away from the values and priorities that unite us.
In closing, I look forward to seeing you on one of my masked walks across campus, in a zoom meeting, or at an Open Dore on Location event.
Susan R. Wente
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs
COVID-RELATED QUICK LINKS
Faculty Return to Campus
Staff Return to Campus
Faculty Adaptive Teaching Resources
Public Health Command Center