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Just a Thought from UHV President Bob Glenn

Colleagues,

I am looking forward to a time when it will no longer be necessary to send you multiple, daily messages to provide you with the latest breaking news and the new directions they require. I suspect each of you is looking forward to that day as well.  Visiting displaced offices, I see folks pulling together to get through this situation, and appreciate the overwhelming spirit of cooperation. You and your colleagues are our greatest strength and resource.  It is an honor to serve our students with you. I am also aware that there is great anxiety on campus as we face a threat to our health and safety that we can’t really put our arms around. This is exacerbated, in my view, by the fact that we are confronted on a 24/7 basis with news and opinions on the situation that keeps it in our thoughts. The more we think about it and talk about it, the larger it looms as a source of anxiety.

In situations such as this, I am reminded of the words of great leaders from the past who also faced great crises. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 inaugural address took place in the midst of the Great Depression. This was a time of immense uncertainty as hundreds of thousands of Americans had lost their jobs, their homes and had no way to know how they would survive from day to day. On that day he had this to say:

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today…This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

I am no FDR, but as the leader of this community I understand that I have a responsibility to each of you to provide “a leadership of frankness and of vigor.” I am committed to do that to the best of my ability. We will continue to share information with you as quickly as possible. I appreciate your patience with me and the other members of the leadership team as we respond to this fluid situation.

Each of us has a part to play in this current situation. Part of the problem in our current situation, as it has been in past crises, is that we are all participating in the transmission of the uncertainty we face. In response to the fears being publicly expressed over the threat of a looming atomic war over 70 years ago, C.S. Lewis grounded his readers in this thoughtful comment:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

If you were to replace the words “atomic bomb” with the words “corona virus” then I believe his words would be just as cogent now as they were in 1948.

I am in no way dismissing the concerns and anxieties any of you have regarding the virus. As a person who is considered to be in a high-risk category, I take the advice and counsel of the CDC and others very, very seriously. But, I also agree with Lewis that we cannot allow ourselves to become so focused on what might happen, that we cannot properly focus on the work before us that needs to be done. Currently, our university is expected to stay open, and to operate in a safe and productive manner. We all have a job to do, in the best way we can, and in some cases, to be done remotely, or in awkward and temporary quarters. Business as usual is behind us, and taking things one day at a time, and one breaking news release at a time, is what lies ahead.

I am committing to you that I will do everything that I can to help us find our way forward in the spirit of great leaders whose examples I value. I am asking each of youto do what you are able to go with us through these uncharted waters to take care of our students. If we can all focus on those things we have control over, ourselves, and not overly focus on those things over which we have no control, the virus, we can do what generations before have done: overcome and move on. Wash your hands, keep a good distance from others, and most importantly take care of our two most valuable resources – yourself and your colleagues.

Bob Glenn