Dear WVU Faculty and Instructors:
It’s hard to believe that it was nearly two years ago when we sent everyone home in response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis. Few of us could have imagined that we would be dealing with the effects of a global pandemic for such a long time.
And now the world feels even more dangerous as we watch the crisis in Ukraine unfold in real time.
But as we head into Spring Break, it appears that we are finally seeing an end in sight at least to the COVID pandemic. The number of cases in the state and at the University have declined significantly. According to the CDC, Monongalia County has been downgraded from “high” to “medium” risk, which means that some safety protocols can now be relaxed.
As those of you with school-age children already know, the Monongalia County school district lifted its classroom mask requirement on March 2nd.
In consultation with our health and safety experts, the University leadership decided earlier this week to lift our own mask mandate for all indoor spaces, including classrooms and learning and research labs. Under the revised policy, wearing a mask is optional for those faculty, students and staff who wish to have added protection. Classes that are scheduled to be in person will remain in person. But, as always, faculty with underlying issues that preclude them from being in the classroom may apply for an accommodation.
Hopefully, this is a sign that the University is returning to a more normal campus environment; however, we are always prepared to change course if the current conditions change.
As I look back on these past two years, I am amazed at what we as a campus, and you as faculty, managed to accomplish during this difficult period. We switched from in-person to online instruction within two weeks. We enabled students to be successful despite the limitations that remote instruction imposed — with the University recording its highest ever freshman retention rate during the height of the pandemic.
We also remained highly productive in research and creativity, retaining our important R1 status and increasing our research expenditures to $199 million dollars in 2021 — our best year ever.
This week we celebrated in person the research achievements of three of our outstanding faculty at the Benedum Distinguished Scholars Showcase. Congratulations to professors Cari Carpenter (English), Lisa Holland (Chemistry) and Cheryl McNeil (Psychology)!
When I look back, I’m also proud of the many contributions made by faculty, staff and students during COVID-19, from making masks and other PPE, to vaccinating citizens throughout the state, to researching better ways to treat patients and test for the virus.
This has not been an easy period. The disruption to academic life, along with the anxiety and stress the epidemic engendered, has taken its toll. Our front-line health care workers who have staffed our hospitals, clinics and ICUs during the pandemic are exhausted and feeling long-term effects from the stress. We should all be grateful for their dedicated service and sacrifice.
As we emerge from this challenging time, I hope that each of you can take a moment to recognize how much you have accomplished and how far we all have come.
During this period, while we were physically separated from each other, we also grew together as a community. We made new connections in the virtual space, adapted to new situations and unique circumstances, and solved a myriad of problems in real time. We showed our resiliency, resourcefulness, creativity and courage.
Spring is a time of rebirth and new growth. And I imagine, like me, you are ready for a new beginning – one in which we are unmasked, unafraid and more open to in-person experiences. But I hope that we can retain some of the valuable lessons we learned during COVID. We are not the same campus as we were two years ago, but I believe we are better for it.
We have much to work on in the days ahead. For now, I hope you can make time next week to rest and recharge, take care of yourself and spend time with loved ones.