In preparation for the University of Tennessee at Martin 2020-21 academic school year, administrators and faculty met virtually to discuss the unprecedented semester that begins Aug. 17.
The meeting, hosted by Dr. Sean Walker, faculty senate president and associate professor of management, addressed many concerns held by the university community regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety of returning to campus.
UT Martin Chancellor Keith Carver updated the faculty and staff on the precautionary measures that have been implemented to ensure the university can operate safely, such as tracking health trends and communicating with medical officials in Weakley County and the state to prepare for students returning; increasing cleaning practices across campus; testing emergency response strategies with TEMA; and communicating with the emergency management group daily to update university policies.
“Things look and feel a little different around here right now,” said Carver. “Regardless of what is going on around us, I remain excited for the opportunities and the things we have planned as we move forward.”
He encouraged the audience to continue raising awareness to concerns the campus community may have and to stay in contact with the administration for important updates through the UT Martin COVID-19 webpage utm.edu/coronavirus.
Carver concluded his address with the story of James Vinson, a 90-year-old bricklayer from Union City, who helped build seven buildings at UT Martin, including the Hall-Moody Administration Building brick sign. In 1959, Vinson signed a tile that was then laid in Clement Hall and forgotten about for 63 years. During the infrastructure renovation to Clement in 2020, the tile was recovered, and its legacy returned to Vinson who never expected to see the roots of his hard work uncovered.
Inspired by the story, Carver reminded the faculty and staff that even if they were unsure of the upcoming semester, to continue teaching to the best of their ability because just like the tile, someday someone will recognize the hard work each faculty and staff member has dedicated to the university.
“This is our chance. We have no idea what piece of knowledge, what challenge, what conversation we can put on these students’ hearts this year. We have no idea of knowing (what) this handiwork that we’re doing and we’re responsible for everyday will create, but it’s going to create something that will last,” said Carver. “We’re going to get a societal breakthrough. We’re going to get a medical breakthrough. We’re going to get a cultural breakthrough from our time engaging with these students from something we put on their hearts this year. They deserve our very best, and these challenges are going to bring out our very best. So, let’s talk, let’s work together to give our students the best learning experience they can possibly receive.”
Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Dr. Philip Acree Cavalier explained that through the efforts of the administration and Physical Plant, the university was opening as safely as it could and gave hope that the university community will be able to overcome the challenges at hand because of the pandemic.
“I think it’s easy to forget just how often we are in the midst of complete uncertainty, and we’ve navigated it, each of us, and survived and thrived on the other side,” said Cavalier. “As you start this semester, whether it’s hybrid or it’s online, none of what you do is going to be familiar, and a lot of what’s going to happen in the next 15 and 30 weeks is completely unknown. And yet, we have all developed skills to be able to navigate this.”
Several new faculty and staff members were welcomed to the university community during the meeting and were able to address concerns for the upcoming semester regarding safety, reporting, testing, funding and course policies, which were answered by Carver, Cavalier, Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Petra McPhearson and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Dr. Andy Lewter. The questions and answers will be archived for later viewing at utm.edu/coronavirus.
For more information concerning COVID-19 campus procedures, visit utm.edu/coronavirus. For more information about the meeting, contact the Office of University Relations at 731-881-7615.