a message to my students

I have been starting school each August for the past fifty-six years. A great many things have changed in my life over the decades, but not that. And here we are in August 2020 and school is about to start … but not in a way I have ever experienced before.

If we were beginning an online semester, I would find the experience less familiar but also less disturbing. I learned a lot last semester about teaching online, and if we need to go back to online teaching and learning again, I will be prepared. Fair warning: I don’t do it the way most of your teachers do it. I won’t use Canvas at all, and I think there are better tools than Zoom for the kind of teaching I do — though I would be happy to use Zoom to chat with y’all individually. (Zoomy office hours aren’t a bad thing at all.)

But for now we’re coming to class together, physically. I have argued that, with proper precautions in place, this is a good idea, but I have to admit that as the time draws nearer I doubt my position more. I try not to worry — and when worry creeps in I pray for the peace that surpasses understanding, a practice that I would recommend to you all — but while I have absolutely no health issues that I know of, my wife has some quite serious underlying conditions that would make contracting COVID-19 very, very dangerous for her. So I have to be exceptionally attentive to all risks. I will be spending as little time as possible on campus — basically I will be coming in to teach our classes and then heading back home again — but I promise that you will find me accessible and responsive to you.

A related point: I humbly but fervently ask your cooperation with all of Baylor’s precautionary policies, even when you think they’re extreme. Your compliance or non-compliance could make a big difference in the lives of others, and maybe in your own as well.

And one more thing. I’m hearing from a number of students who are themselves concerned about their health, and who want me to make various adjustments for them. You need to understand that this is not possible. A great many things have changed, but one thing that has not changed is that there are many more of you (the students) than there are of us (your professors). Plus, we teachers are all having to plan and prepare for two very different ways of conducting our classes, and furthermore must be ready to take over for colleagues if they get sick. (All of us have had backup teachers assigned to our classes, and have been assigned as backup teachers for others.) This is definitely the most demanding and stressful period of preparation for a semester that I have ever had.

I mention that because y’all need to understand that if we can’t make the kinds of accommodations and adjustments that you want, that’s not because we are mean and selfish, but rather because we are finite human beings with limited amounts of energy and a fixed number of hours in each day.

So let’s be patient with one another. I will try not to ask more of you than is reasonable in the circumstances, and I hope you will do the same for me. And I would encourage you all to keep in mind, as we begin this strange term, these words from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”