Orange Central is Syracuse University’s annual reunion and homecoming celebration, and this year’s festivities drew nearly 1,500 attendees from 48 states to campus to celebrate their love of Syracuse. The weekend featured reunion gatherings, the much-anticipated Alumni Awards Celebration, “Back…
Welcome Back, Responding to Challenges
Next Monday, Jan. 24, we begin the spring semester. This will be the fifth semester that we will be doing our work under the frustration and exhaustion that comes from enduring this seemingly never-ending pandemic. While I think we should all expect that our campus, our community and our country will have to navigate some challenging circumstances over the next few weeks, the good news is that we have learned a great deal about how to contend with these challenges over the last two years. It looks increasingly as though we may be transitioning from pandemic to endemic conditions, where COVID-19 is something that is more manageable because of vaccines and broader immunity, just as we live with the annual cycles of flu.
In framing the challenges that we will face in the next few weeks, it is important to appreciate that omicron acts differently than the delta or alpha variants did. Omicron is highly contagious, but it also appears to be significantly less severe and shorter in duration. Among those who are infected, the rates of hospitalization are lower, hospital stays are shorter and those requiring hospitalization are overwhelmingly unvaccinated individuals. Among the fully vaccinated, including a booster, when breakthrough infections do occur, they rarely produce severe health outcomes. This combination of high levels of transmission, lower severity and quicker progression also suggest that the current surge will crest and decline quickly.
So, what should instructors, researchers, staff and students expect over the next few weeks as we manage and mitigate the current surge? There will likely be students, staff and instructors who are required to isolate or quarantine, with accompanying absences. We should work to support those who feel able to continue working, teaching and learning while they are in isolation. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations and our requirements for isolation are shorter than in the past, accommodating our colleagues and students should not be as onerous as it has been up to now.
Schools and departments should have contingency plans for classes in case there are instructors who have to be away from campus for a few days. Please be supportive of your students if they tell you they cannot be in class because of isolation and illness–kindness, caring and flexibility (toward our students and each other) will be critical over these next few weeks. We are working to provide video recording capability in all our classrooms for the first few weeks of the semester as instructors work to assist students who are out of class. If the challenges you are facing feel too large for you to manage on your own–please make your chair or dean aware of your situation so we can see what can be done to help you. I have told all our deans that everyone in Academic Affairs is available to help find solutions to any unusual issues that might emerge as we navigate the beginning of the semester. (They have my cell phone number if they need me.)
While managing COVID feels consuming at the moment, I also want us all to look ahead as we work together to further elevate academic excellence at Syracuse University. In the next few weeks, we will be receiving feedback from our review of the cluster hiring initiative. With help from an external consultant, I am also working to better understand strengths, challenges and opportunities in our research operations. All of us in Academic Affairs, including with our two new members of the leadership team–Associate Provost Jamie Winders and Vice President Ryan Williams–look forward to collaborating with all of you in the months and years to come as we continue to raise our reputation and amplify our impact on the broader world.
As we celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth, I am reminded of the power of aspirational visionaries like King, who keep us focused on our values and purpose even in the face of daunting challenges and hardships. Understanding the amazing discoveries, innovations and advancements that can happen when we recognize and support the talents and ambitions of people from all backgrounds is, after all, core to mission as an institution of higher learning.
Vice Chancellor, Provost and Chief Academic Officer