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A Message from the Provost to All Faculty, March 17, 2020

A Message from the Provost to All Faculty, March 17, 2020

Dear Faculty,

I know you are very busy at the moment as you reimagine your courses for alternative modes of instruction. I want to update you on several topics.

All-Employee Meeting

A meeting of all Smith staff and faculty will be held via Zoom at 10:00 a.m., on Wednesday, March 18. Please look out for the invitation to this meeting and join.

Spring Break Extension

The college has extended Spring Recess through March 29, with classes to begin on March 30. During this break, most of our students are moving back home, settling in and adjusting to their new environment. They need this time to prepare for the work we'll be doing with them beginning March 30. Please observe this break. Do not require students to turn in work before March 30, even if the original deadlines for assignments fell during the week of March 23.


In the new instructional environment we're entering, please emphasize and allow flexibility. Our students are now scattered across time zones, making it very difficult for some to manage real-time, synchronous participation. Please be understanding and accommodating to the extent possible and offer alternative modes of participation. Remember, our students will now be working in spaces quite different from the campus environment. They may have difficulty finding quiet and undisturbed time for work, whether "in" class or outside of class time. This might make it hard for them to meet firm deadlines in some cases. In this as in other areas, I urge you to be as flexible as possible.

I want to acknowledge that you, too, are working in new and unfamiliar ways. Please extend to yourselves the flexibility and understanding that I'm asking you to extend to your students. It is important to recognize that while we are all working to build the richest, engaging and most meaningful curricular experience possible, we are doing so under challenging circumstances and we're going to have to cut ourselves a little slack.

Access to Campus Spaces

Faculty will retain access to offices (and to a limited extent, labs and studios) when necessary for delivery of curriculum. Please know that buildings will be locked, that facilities personnel will be limited (so that cleaning, for example, will be less frequent), and that there will be no on-campus administrative support. Please do not work from your office simply because you prefer or want to have a change of scenery. As an institution and a community, we are working to flatten the pandemic curve through social distancing. Our priority right now is to move as much work and as many people off campus as quickly as possible.

Two additional items arise here. First, please avail yourselves of the guidance and assistance on offer from the Sherrerd Center and IT. On the website for digital support, click on the “faculty” section and then “Sign up for a workshop or consultation” to get the assistance you need. Second, chairs will be receiving and passing along specific information about academic assistants' work expectations. I am asking all faculty to respect the fact that admins, too, are working remotely and under unfamiliar and in some cases challenging circumstances. Please limit and prioritize requests for their assistance.


Our emphasis to date has been on teaching and shifting our courses to new modes. At the same time, faculty are researchers and scholars as well, and I want to acknowledge the damage done to ongoing research programs by the move to remote work. Some projects will be delayed. Some will probably have to be ended prematurely, and many will be confronting the loss of a good deal of preparatory work. I sympathize with feelings of grief at this moment, and of insecurity among junior faculty concerned about scholarly productivity before tenure. For those of you mourning a lost project, I am sorry. For those worried about upcoming reviews, I will be working with the committee on tenure and promotion to determine how best to build into our review processes an acknowledgment of this semester's extraordinary circumstances.

For faculty in the sciences, I am including here guidance developed by Kevin Shea and Tom Richardson:

Continuing Laboratory Research in the Science Center During COVID-19

Context: The college specifically wants to minimize the number of people on campus and minimize the interaction of the people who are on campus.

In that context, laboratory research in the Science Center needs to wind down across the board by the end of the week (March 20, 2020). Bear in mind that laboratory research depends on Lab Safety & Compliance, the stockrooms, autoclaves, glass-washing and other centrally staffed services. Those will increasingly be limited or unavailable, including custodial. Our buildings are closed to external service contractors, so there will be no routine maintenance. We will also not be able to arrange unexpected repair of equipment, including fume hoods, biosafety cabinets, cold rooms and freezers. The less we use them, the less chance there is of a breakdown.

If there are truly extraordinary circumstances associated with your research and you feel that you cannot wind it down by March 20, start by e-mailing Kevin Shea and Tom Richardson to explain why. They will consult with Science Center staff to determine if there is a way to allow you to continue work. Please include a work plan that answers:

  1. What specifically do you need to do and why?
  2. How long do you need to complete it?
  3. Will any staff or postdocs need to be in the lab also?
  4. Will you be working with or generate any hazardous material?
  5. What are the safety risks of what you need to do, and how will you mitigate them?
  6. Will you need to use an autoclave or glass-washing services?
  7. Do you have everything you need to do the work or do you need to order anything?
  8. What would the consequences be if you are not allowed to do the work?

Please note that we are keeping the Animal Care Facility at normal operations to care for the animal colonies, but no research in the ACF is allowed. The centers (CABR, CDF, CFP, CMB and CMI) are already closed or will be by the end of the week.


Take care of yourselves. Amid all of the hard work we are undertaking together and that you are undertaking at this moment, make time for adequate rest and exercise. If you begin to feel isolated, reach out to someone on the phone or online. Treat yourself to a purely social conversation, to a bit of pleasure reading, to a walk. Your health and wellness, now as always, matter.

All best,


Michael Thurston, Provost and Dean of Faculty
Helen Means Professor of English Language and Literature