Letter to the College Community from Outgoing Interim Dean Sandra Russ

Dear Members of the College Community,

Ten months ago, when I became interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, no one anticipated the challenges that the university, our nation and the world would be confronting at this moment. We mourn the tragic, continuing loss of life from the COVID-19 pandemic. We recognize the tremendous burdens this outbreak has imposed on our society, and especially on our most vulnerable populations. And, along with the rest of the country, we are grappling with the legacy and persistence of systemic racism, so starkly manifested in police brutality against African Americans.

What is the college’s role in these difficult times? What have we learned about our capacity to sustain our vital work and magnify its impact beyond the university? These are the questions that preoccupy me as I prepare to step down on July 1.

Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences wearing glasses and dark blue blazer

Sandra Russ

First of all, let me say how inspired I have been by the dedication and resourcefulness of our community during this crisis. When the university shifted from in-person classes to remote learning, members of our faculty spent untold hours adapting their courses and mastering new technologies. Scholars across the disciplines, including several from our Department of History, sought to improve public understanding of the pandemic by writing articles and talking with journalists. Blanton S. Tolbert, professor in the Department of Chemistry, became actively engaged with an international team of scientists investigating the novel coronavirus.

I am equally grateful to the staff members whose expertise and tireless efforts have enabled the college to navigate a constantly evolving situation. And I am in awe of our students, whose extraordinary resilience has been an example to us all. In the midst of their spring term, they were suddenly deprived of research and performance opportunities, extracurriculars and all the familiar elements of campus life. Yet they remained engaged in their coursework, supported each other and volunteered to assist individuals and families affected by the pandemic.

I also want to thank our generous alumni for supporting the CAS Dean’s Rapid Response Fund on the university’s recent Day of Giving. This fund will help us provide our students with many of the tools they need to thrive in a learning environment made more challenging by COVID-19, including improved delivery of courses, labs and performing arts.

In recent weeks, through events such as our university-wide Day of Dialogue, our community has reaffirmed its commitment to racial justice and equality. The college has much to contribute to this cause—through student support initiatives such as the Emerging Scholars Program, curricular offerings such as our minor in African and African American Studies, and research centers such as the Schubert Center for Child Studies. We are eager to expand our efforts to create a more diverse campus and address social issues such as poverty, discrimination and health disparities.

All of us in the college owe a great debt to President Barbara R. Snyder and Provost and Executive Vice President Ben Vinson III for their decisive actions and their devotion to the university’s values. On July 1, they will be joined by another superb academic leader, Joy K. Ward, who will begin her tenure as the next dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. I have been working with Joy to ensure a smooth transition, and I know that the college will benefit from her exceptional knowledge, judgment and creativity.

Building on the efforts of Timothy Beal, my predecessor as interim dean, I have worked with the associate deans, department chairs and other faculty members on several initiatives that I hope will bear fruit in the months and years ahead.  We all realize that the pandemic and its aftermath will have long-term consequences for our society—and, inevitably, for higher education. But we have demonstrated that we can weather adversity. And with the support of our alumni and friends, I am confident that we will sustain our traditions of excellence in research and education, help the world recover from this ordeal and move forward as a society that enables all individuals to develop their potential.

Sandra Russ

Interim Dean

Distinguished University Professor

Louis D. Beaumont University Professor

Department of Psychological Sciences