We are entering a new and challenging phase of the coronavirus epidemic—one that requires us now more than ever to respond to current circumstances using available scientific evidence and public health guidance, but with all the wisdom and creativity we can muster.
With lockdown fatigue and some progress “flattening the curve” on the one hand and the continued threat of potentially deadly cases of COVID-19 on the other, we are faced with striking a balance between resuming our activities to provide our students with a personalized education and protecting the health and safety of our community.
And we will find that balance. The choice between virtual and in person is not “either/or”; it is “both/and.” We will draw on the best science and the most authoritative sources, including county and state guidance, in charting a path forward. Our talented professors will leverage the tools at hand to continue to provide an engaging, personalized education in a responsive and safe environment. Faculty groups are currently meeting to explore the varied possibilities that honor both student choice and the realities of our public health environment. And we strive to accomplish these goals while fostering a diverse and inclusive community.
One day we will look back at the coronavirus pandemic of 2019-20 as many of us view other historical touchpoints, such as the Great Recession, 9/11, the HIV-AIDS epidemic, or the assassinations of the 1960s. And we will see that, through our resourcefulness and strength as a community, the University of Redlands retained its essence. The things that are great about U of R will persist—our warm and welcoming presence, our personalized education, our life-changing student experiences, our commitment to providing opportunity, our communitarian spirit and service. I think also about the perpetual beauty of our Redlands, Marin, and Salzburg campuses.
The “after pandemic” won’t be a terrible new abnormal in which we hardly recognize our prior lives. This episode will certainly change some behaviors, some symbolic, some real—we’ll likely become comfortable wearing face coverings in public, as some in other countries have been for decades. And we’ll habitually overuse hand sanitizers. But crises can also make for progressive changes, often great ones that should have been made long before. The Great Depression begat Social Security. And World War II begat the GI Bill and desegregation of the military.
In the case of higher education, this crisis, particularly with its home-bound isolation, should trigger a profound realization of the importance of social contact and the personalized interactions that are the essence of a Redlands education. There is no substitute for the inspirational Mortar Board Professor of the Year who knows your strengths and accomplishments and writes that letter of recommendation for the next job.
As a physician scientist, I have fundamental faith in our centuries-long history of ingenuity leading to vaccines and other life-saving biomedical discoveries. Smallpox, bacterial infections like strep throat and its sequela rheumatic fever, measles, mumps, polio, childhood leukemia, many forms of hepatitis, neuromuscular respiratory failure—all have dramatically been tamed in our lifetimes. In response to the current crisis, I have been impressed by how critical shortages of ventilators in New York and California have inspired “MacGyvered” ventilators at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City (Los Angeles Times, April 13), successfully transforming a $1,500 BiPAP device normally used for sleep apnea into a full-blown workable ventilator, capable of substituting for the typical $50,000 high-tech machine for patients with COVID-19 pneumonia. That’s innovation. And I’m equally impressed with the incredible speed of development of potential vaccines. I pray they succeed.
And that’s the spirit we will harness to get through these times at the University and to shape our future. We will rise to the challenge of doing more with less—and doing it better. We will look toward authoritative sources rather than panicked speculation or head-in-the-sand denial. And we will redouble our commitment to providing transformative opportunities for all of our students and caring for all members of our inclusive community.
We already have an uplifting and visionary message to tell our prospective students and to share with others. As Vice President for Enrollment Kevin Dyerly ’00, ’04 says in an interview in this magazine, the value proposition of a University of Redlands education couldn’t be stronger. The pandemic has highlighted our focus on health and safety and on emotional and financial support for our students, the flexibility to enact technology-supported personalized education, and the caring spirit expressed in the outpouring of support for this year’s graduating seniors and for our employees with emergency needs.
In the face of these challenging times, we continue to build the future together as a vibrant, resilient, and inclusive community.
Ralph W. Kuncl, PhD MD
University of Redlands