The 2019-20 academic year was easily the most unusual I ever experienced in more than forty years in higher education. The fall was normal enough—welcoming new faculty, starting searches for faculty for next year, getting classes underway, Thanksgiving break, finals, all routine. But the spring …
Spring brought the novel coronavirus and our move from an almost entirely residential form of education to an entirely remote form. I sometimes think of Penn State as a huge ocean liner of an institution, and ocean liners don’t generally turn easily. But, in this case, we made a U-turn at record speed.
In just five days, the HSS faculty alone converted almost 300 classes from one mode of instruction to another. From a mode that we knew very well to one with which most of us had no experience. It was a remarkable transformation as our faculty rolled up their sleeves, shared tips and ideas with one another, and made it all work. Our students adapted, developed new traditions, and learned the meaning of resilience. Our staff, working from home, kept the ship afloat. All of us, I think, can be rightly proud of what we did.
As I write this, three months later, we still are not back. Student trips, academic conferences, visits by speakers, music and theater productions, internships—all canceled. It was particularly sad to say goodbye to retiring colleagues without being able to shake hands, exchange hugs, and share a cake.
We are planning to be back on campus for the fall semester, and I’m looking forward to that. We are now living in a world with facemasks, hand sanitizer, and social distance, a world that is developing new ways to have the conferences, speakers, and performances that are the cherries on the intellectual sundaes of college life. In the words of Diana Ross, “Someday, we’ll be together again.” I can’t wait. See you on campus in the fall.
Until then, keep your hands clean and your mask on.
Eric Corty, Ph.D.
Director, School of Humanities and Social Sciences