NORMAL — Illinois State University President Larry Dietz called last week’s violence at the U.S. Capitol a “national tragedy” and “America at its worst,” but also expressed optimism in messages to students, faculty and staff.
“The national tragedy was exacerbated by the realization that inadequate defense and security measures stood in stark contrast to what was observed during the demonstrations that occurred over the summer months,” Dietz said in the messages, sent over the weekend as ISU begins spring semester.
“This difference in response is yet another reminder that our nation must reconcile its legacy of systemic racism and inequality if we are to realize our dream of a ‘more perfect union,’” he said.
But Dietz said the country also witnessed the best of our nation as, amid the chaos, “we once again witnessed America’s resolve as multitudes of people demanded accountability for those who incited violence and those who participated in the mayhem.”
At the same time events were unfolding in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, faculty, staff and graduate teaching assistants were taking part in the annual teaching and learning symposium organized by ISU’s Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology.
The theme of this year’s symposium, conducted online, was “Civic Engagement in Extraordinary Times.”
Dietz said, “This year’s civic engagement theme couldn’t be more appropriate.”
He said the symposium demonstrated that “in a nation seemingly divided, good works can still bring us together.”
Dietz added, “As you continue to process Wednesday’s traumatic events and their ramifications, please remember to invest extra time in your well-being, and please support those who are most vulnerable and may need an empathetic ear or a virtual shoulder to lean on.”
Spring classes started Monday at ISU, with most classes taking place online and on-campus residents required to get tested for COVID-19 as the coronavirus pandemic continues. Other students are encouraged, but not required, to be tested.
A little more than 3,000 students are living on campus, about half the usual capacity.
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Dietz asked students for their “continued diligence in following all COVID-19 health and safety guidance. In addition, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of on-campus COVID-19 testing as you return to campus.”
In his message to faculty and staff, Dietz addressed the pandemic situation in greater depth.
“By-and-large, the Illinois State University community has thus far weathered the storm. As the fall 2020 semester progressed, the number of infections and positivity rates moderated from early semester spikes. Testing and mitigation processes became more efficient. There was some illness as would be expected in a pandemic, but gratefully, ISU did not receive reports that COVID-19 claimed any lives in our campus community,” he said.
Noting the arrival of vaccines in McLean County, Dietz said, “Each dose is a literal shot in the arm and a figurative booster for our tattered morale.”
However, despite the vaccine’s arrival, “the country remains in the pandemic’s grip, as infections, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to rise in many areas of the country, and the fear of another post-holiday coronavirus surge heightens concerns across the nation and right here in McLean County,” said Dietz.
About half of eligible administrative professional and civil service employees are using temporary work-at-home agreements. Such work arrangement will remain an option through the end of the fiscal year, according to Dietz.