Supporting our Cornell colleagues

Aug. 26, 2020

Dear colleagues,

As we begin an academic year like no other, I want to thank everyone at Cornell who has worked so hard to make this reopening possible. With grace, creativity, and patience, you have applied your skills and talents to each new challenge, finding solutions to problems no university has faced before. You have mapped new paths around every obstacle, and I have been impressed every single day by your resourcefulness and dedication. I could wish for no better community than this one, and I am so very proud to be a part of it. Thank you, all of you, for everything you have done to bring us to this point.

As we welcome our undergraduates back to campus, we mark a transition from these strange months of empty classrooms and silent quads, to our “new normal” operations. Yet for many Cornell families, life is still very far from normal. I know that many of you are dealing with significant stresses at home, as you struggle to balance work responsibilities with the demands of caring for children, parents, and disabled adults without your usual sources of support. While Cornell has put into place practices and resources to help families cope with some of these difficulties, we are very aware that this continues to be an extremely challenging situation for many of you. This week, I received the recommendations of our COVID-19 Family Life Working Group, and will be working closely with my leadership team to explore possible ways of lessening the stress and the burden on our many employees with caregiving responsibilities.

In the meantime, I expect every university supervisor, chair, and director to work hard to accommodate and support those with family and personal care needs. These are not normal times, and all of us need to adjust our expectations accordingly. We may need to make modifications to schedules and workloads that we have not made before. We will certainly need to change some of the ways we define success, for ourselves and our teams. Right now, our first priority is caring for each other, for our students, and for ourselves, as we do our best to pursue our mission safely.

If you are in a position of leadership, I ask you to lead with empathy, and find every way you can to be flexible, to be understanding, and to be generous. For all our employees, if you are struggling with the competing demands of work and home, I encourage you to reach out to your supervisor, director, or chair, or to your HR partner, to ask for help, or to our Faculty and Staff Assistance Program for confidential counseling and support. Above all, I ask everyone, whatever your role at Cornell, to be kind: to each other, and to yourselves. We are part of an extraordinary community that has already done so much, and come so far—and together, we will make it through.