As will surprise no one reading this special issue of our digital newsletter, the past month has been an extraordinary one here at Tulane. The pace of change is one of the most notable—and disconcerting—aspects of the crisis.
Less than a month ago, we were holding classes and the campus was filled with students enjoying another gorgeous New Orleans spring. Meetings began and ended with people shaking hands. In retrospect, it all seems chillingly normal.
Those paying attention, of course, were deeply concerned about coronavirus gaining ground in the United States. Tulane’s crisis readiness operation, which we typically activate when summer hurricanes are brewing, resumed meetings, with senior leadership gathering over early morning conference calls.
On the first Wednesday of March, at the monthly meeting of School of Liberal Arts department chairs and program directors, I announced a remote-teaching “fire-drill,” asking faculty to teach at least one class session remotely before spring break. At the time, this struck some as a bit abrupt, even unnecessary. But only seven days later, so much having changed in the interim, President Fitts announced that the rest of academic year would be taught online. The campus quickly followed to remote work, even before the city and then state followed with stay-at-home mandates.
Three weeks later, it seems that our world is turned upside down. Comments about the new “normal” cede to speculation about what the world will be like when all of this is over. Without being able to name it, we have a strong sense that we are living through a period of major historical significance.
These are challenging times for all of us. From those forced into claustrophobic surroundings with too many people and too little space to those with a compounded sense of isolation, we all suffer from restricted circulation.
But there is also sustenance and extraordinary fortitude in this community. This is a campus and a community that knows crisis and has shown great strength in the past.
Students of the liberal arts excel in making comparisons, in finding analogues and resonances, in exploring our affective responses to crisis, in charting the ways in which to understand that which is happening, and in offering recommendations for better futures.
This issue of our newsletter is dedicated to telling the story of the massive transition that has occurred in the past three weeks. I am truly amazed at how many people worked tirelessly and selflessly to move our entire operation online, even while safeguarding our community’s health and security. As a community of scholars dedicated to the disciplines of the liberal arts, we are at the same time thinking and reflecting on the tremendous movement of which we are a part. For now, we share these notes from the field.
Wherever this finds you, be well, take care of yourselves and your loved ones, and do take advantage of the best aspects of digital technologies to help keep in touch during a time when we must remain physically distant.
Dean and Professor of English