Weekly Community Update from President Harring

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Dear students, faculty and staff,

As the spring semester comes to a close, I want to share two very important events that took place this past week. Both provided a feeling of accomplishment and a hint of normalcy reminding us that as a community we continue to move forward.

Beginning last Wednesday we held Virtual Senior Days. It began with my remarks during the Senior Toast and included reflections from Mitch Knafo ’20 to his classmates. The rest of the week featured opportunities for students to engage with one another and hear from Assistant Professor of Theatre Matthew Moore, the seniors’ selection for the Last Lecture. This culminated in a virtual celebration of our graduates on Sunday. We had great participation in these virtual events—and based on the messages and social media posts, our students and families found ways to celebrate together. I invite you to visit the Commencement page on our website to view some of the events and see the social media posts that rolled in. 

I was truly honored to be able to confer the degrees for the Class of 2020. It’s hard for me to tell you what the day meant to me. I have been at Muhlenberg for 36 years—from faculty member to provost to president. A college education is about preparing students for their lives, both personal and professional, and the Commencement ceremony formally marks the passage of our students into their futures. Though I have attended countless commencement ceremonies before, Sunday’s ceremony was special since it was my first time as President conferring students’ degrees. I had an immense feeling of pride in our graduates and I can’t wait to be able to hold our on-campus ceremony in the fall. Congratulations to the Class of 2020!

I know it has been a long, and at times frustrating, wait for everyone, but this week we began the process to allow students to retrieve their belongings from the residence halls. The beginning of the two-week-long process is off to a great start. I want to thank all of our students and their families for adhering to the guidelines to ensure their safety and that of others. I want to offer special gratitude to our staff from housing and residence life, housekeeping, plant operations and campus safety for running what has been a thorough and flawless operation. 

What are we doing this fall? This is the question on everyone’s minds and it is the focus of my video message this week. We have begun the process to evaluate a number of potential scenarios for the fall that cover all possibilities. We are exploring various options so we will be prepared to respond regardless of how the situation evolves. At the core of our planning is the responsibility we have to our students to provide them with the high-quality academic experience and support that they have come to expect.

Regardless of which scenario comes to fruition, we know that we will need to be able to provide remote learning for at least a portion of our students who for health or personal reasons may not be able to return to campus. In light of this reality, we have implemented digital learning training for all Muhlenberg faculty this summer. Muhlenberg is in a uniquely strong position to do this and do it well. Our digital learning team has a fully developed program to help faculty understand how students best learn in digital environments so they can create courses to meet these needs. Indeed, a number of other colleges have been in touch with us to discuss our program and approach. Another advantage we have is that a significant number of our faculty have already been through this extensive training and they are serving as digital learning fellows to help facilitate the summer program. We will have information about the planning process available on our website soon and are working toward a midsummer decision.

As we move into the summer, the schedule for this community message will change. For the time being, I plan to send a message to the community every other week (the next one will be on June 2). We may adjust this over the course of the summer;, however, any major decisions will be shared as soon as it is appropriate.

Please send me your general questions about how Muhlenberg is moving forward in these unusual times to presquestions@muhlenberg.edu so that I can answer via video in my next message—here is this week’s video update:

Please remember that when we review the questions you send, we look for themes so I can try and provide answers to some of the questions that many of you raise. If you have specific questions for a College office, please contact that office for a more detailed answer. Contact information for relevant offices can be found on the College website.

I hope you continue to stay safe and healthy.

Sincerely,
Kathy Harring
Interim President