To the College of Letters and Science community,
I write to check in with you as the quarter draws to a close.
As you all know, beginning in March, over the course of just a couple of weeks, Letters and Science instructors and staff moved more than 1,000 classes to remote standing. We then taught approximately 25,000 students throughout the quarter. I wish I had a more precise way of measuring the size of this undertaking or of conveying the significance of this achievement. I’ll just say that the fact that we were able to do this during a global pandemic is nothing short of extraordinary, and that this happened because of your dedication. Together, we made it possible for our students to make progress toward their degrees, to learn material that will shape the rest of their lives, to stay connected with one another as part of a vibrant intellectual community.
Given all that we have accomplished in the face of a series of overwhelming challenges, we should be celebrating. We should be celebrating the success of our students who will be graduating next week: their resilience, their ingenuity, their kindness, their boundless capacity to improve society. We should be celebrating that the campus has begun ramping up its research activities. We should be celebrating that the library will soon make it possible for books to circulate again. We should be celebrating all of the knowledge that has emerged out of our laboratories and our laptops. We should be celebrating the sculpture and symphonies and other works of art that we have wrought. We should be celebrating that the University of California, even in the darkest of hours, continues to shine bright, that our campus remains a beacon of what public higher education can mean for our state and the world beyond.
And yet, it feels as though celebrations are badly misplaced in this moment. Last week, we all saw video footage of a man, George Floyd, asking onlookers to recognize his humanity. We saw him, defenseless and terrified, seeking comfort from his deceased mother. We saw a police officer choke the life out of him. We witnessed a lynching. I have no special standing to be part of the conversations that must take place in the coming weeks, months, and years about law enforcement, about justice, about healing. I have no prescription for what ails our society. All I know is that in the wake of this latest chapter in the nation’s history of racial violence, sorrow crowds out all joy. It feels unbearable. But I have hope that the members of our community will, as they have over the past months, lift one another up in this terrible moment.
On that note, I have a request. I ask that you please remember that some of our students, as they prepare for exams, can smell smoke from buildings burning in their neighborhoods and that all of them are being buffeted by news of the horrors unfolding around them. I ask that you please remember, as the academic year winds down, that your colleagues are also in pain. I ask that you please focus on the decency in one another and remember that, although we are now mired in sadness, the time for celebration will come again. When it does, I hope to thank every one of you for all that you have done during this strange, difficult, sad time.
In the meantime, please know that I’m here to help if I can.
Ari Kelman, Interim Dean