home May 2020 A Message from Dean Barrett

A Message from Dean Barrett

Dean Laura Barrett
Dean Laura Barrett

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, our health, our families, our jobs, our education, our travel, our routines, our leisure, and, perhaps most of all, our peace of mind.  Sometime in the 1980s, the term “disruption” acquired a positive connotation, but I’ll follow the lead of the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as a “violent dissolution of continuity.”   That can’t be good.  We will learn some valuable lessons and be more mindful of our processes, interactions, and impact on the world, but the price is very high, especially as we realize that societal inequities find themselves replicated in this circumstance, as the virus proves more virulent among already vulnerable populations.  So, it’s challenging to see a lining silver enough to write this introduction, but not impossible, and that is because of the grace with which the campus has responded to this crisis.  Most faculty found themselves revising their course delivery in a brief period, immersing themselves in workshops and PowerPoints on remote instruction, sharing their insights, assignments, and tips with each other,  adjusting to a new world in which their students were not only distanced but also overwhelmed with family obligations, technical limitations, and increased job responsibilities.  Students, too, pivoted quickly from seated classes to Blackboard Collaborate, expressing regret over the abrupt loss of their friends, faculty, support networks, campus, and all the extracurricular events, lectures, and panels that bring our campus to life.  Staff quickly gathered the resources necessary to work from home as all of us learned new formats for meetings, workshops, and even celebrations.  We instituted new policies to make the transitions less daunting and more forgiving.  In short, we reminded ourselves that humans are resilient.

The disciplines in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences have much to contribute to our understanding of how the virus and attempts at mitigation have affected the world.   What are the political and economic consequences of this situation?  What is the effect of prolonged isolation?  How has our relationship to the environment changed?  Do we have a better sense of the importance of art, music, and literature that sustained us during quarantine?  Will we recognize the value of society now that we’ve experienced its absence?  Faculty are already considering these and other questions in blogs and upcoming courses, and they will explore the interdisciplinary issues of pandemics, including COVID-19, in next year’s Without Limits series.

As challenging as this semester has been, my silver lining has been the opportunity to work with dedicated colleagues who have magically (and with blood, sweat, and tears) made the impossible perfectly possible (exemplified – with verve – by the Questionable Authorities’ video tribute to the class of 2020.)  Among those colleagues are Gerald Benjamin and Gwen Havranek, whose retirements, though well-deserved, will certainly give rise to new disruptions.  Distinguished Professor Benjamin, Assistant Vice President for Regional Engagement and Director of the Benjamin Center, Professor of Political Science, and former Dean of Liberal Arts & Sciences, will be retiring this summer after a 50-plus-year career at SUNY New Paltz.  While Jerry has been busy during the last twelve years directing his eponymous center, he has continued to be a strong voice for the liberal arts in and out of the classroom.  Gwen Havranek, whose service has been recognized by a Chancellor’s Award, has served as Director of Business Operations of LA&S for over twenty years and has been a member of the campus community for forty years.   Faculty and chairs have expressed their appreciation of Gwen’s ability to assist with the budgetary components of conducting research, offering innovative classroom experiences, and providing extracurricular events.  She has been an invaluable colleague and a wonderful friend.  I am delighted to announce that after seven years of working with Gwen on budgetary matters (not to mention all of her accomplishments in the area of Communication), Despina Williams Parker will step into the role of Director of Budget and Communication.  I have every confidence that Despina will see us through a challenging year and lead us into better ones.

Enjoy a safe and relaxing summer as we continue to navigate our disrupted world.