Dean of UCL Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences Professor Sasha Roseneil's thoughts in these challenging and unprecedented circumstances.
Last night I opened my front door and stood on the doorstep and clapped. My wife Nina came to join me, and we clapped, and clapped, and we listened to the sound of our neighbours clapping, as it reverberated across the street and around the locality. We were applauding everyone who works in the NHS, the people who care for us when we are sick, and on whom we depend more than ever at the moment. But we were also coming together to recognise what society means to us, to acknowledge our fundamental interdependence as human beings, how, in our embodied vulnerabilities, we need each other for life itself. We opened our doors and reconnected with the people living opposite and alongside us, with the world beyond our own homes, in which we have been confined now for many days. I am sure that I wasn't the only one amongst us who was profoundly moved by that moment.
At the end of this second week of remote working, with the buildings of UCL closed, and members of the Faculty scattered across London and beyond, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to you all for the dedication you have shown to our shared endeavours in the most extraordinary of circumstances. Many amongst us have children and young people at home now - excited, confused, upset, boistrous, energetic, depressed, and cycling rapidly between these emotions. Family members have been ill this week, and some of you have been too. Some of us have vulnerable friends and relatives, elderly parents, loved ones with cancer and dementia, about whom we are worrying. UCL work has been interrupted, as living rooms have become classrooms, and lessons are overseen, questions answered, cuddles delivered. Young faces have appeared in front of cameras and have made appearances in Teams meetings, and parents have felt torn between home and work with a greater intensity than ever before. And for those of us who live alone, who are single, who have a partner living elsewhere, whose family are in other countries, as so many working in universities do, the enforced isolation of our collective lockdown presents different challenges. But whether we are in a busy, (over)full households or by ourselves, we are each living this experience in our own singular way, as our individual freedom is radically curtailed and we are held within our homes.
These are our new realities, and we are adapting to them with resilience and resourcefulness, and amazing work is being done by you all. Students have been being taught, lectures, seminars, one-to-one supervisions, and pastoral care delivered in ways for which very few of us were trained. Departments are being administered from living rooms, box rooms and dining tables. Interviews have been conducted across the internet. Payments are being processed. Grant applications have been submitted. REF impact case studies are being drafted, fed back on, and revised. And much more... The wheels are still turning, and the Faculty is still running. This is an amazing collective achievement, one for which no risk register or business continuity plan prepared us.
There have been frustrations, exasperation, and anger, at times, with the pace of decision-making. It has felt too slow, with people left hanging for what seems like for ever. It has been too fast, and implications haven't always been fully worked through. Decisions have been made that don't work perfectly for every Department. Students have been distressed, and have complained. There is a widespread feeling of powerless, of being in limbo, waiting for other people to decide things. The anxiety is ubiquitous - sometimes ricocheting between us, and lurking within each of us. We fret about and try to control the small things. After all, life is made up of small things.
Through all of this, what has struck me most, in my electronically mediated interactions with colleagues across the Faculty this past week, is our shared humanity. We are all trying our best in circumstances we never imagined living. We sometimes get things wrong, but intentions are good. I have revelled in the moments of humour, the shared laughs, the smiles that have shone out of my computer screen. I hope that you have had some similar moments of connection and community with your colleagues.
Thank you all for your work this week. I wish you all a restful and healthy weekend. I hope you can spend some time outside, that you can focus on those you love, and that you will each have some time for yourselves.
Every word that one might use to describe our current global predicament seems profoundly inadequate: unprecedented, extraordinary, bizarre, disturbing, shocking... We are all reeling from the sudden abolition of our everyday, taken-for-granted ways of life. Our daily routines have been cancelled, our working practices radically transformed, our face-to-face social connections ruptured. The emotional dynamics of these changes are reverberating through each of us as individuals and in our interactions with each other, at work and in our personal lives.
In this context, I am writing to you as we near the end of the first full week of remote working to express my heartfelt gratitude to every member of the Faculty for the gargantuan efforts you have all made to adapt to the force majeure that confronts us. I am so deeply impressed by the flexibility, innovation and good humour with which everyone has responded. Taking our teaching online, with almost no notice, and moving all of our meetings into virtual spaces is a huge, ongoing project, to which every everyone is contributing. Supporting our students through the upturning of their worlds is an enormous task, and I know that you doing this with great empathy and compassion.
All of this has happened against the backdrop of the UCU industrial action and the ongoing campaigns around pensions, pay, casualisation, workloads, and matters of equality. Personally, I am very grateful that the strikes planned for yesterday and today have been called off, but I want to assure you all that my commitment to the resolution of all of these issues, and to keeping issues of equality, diversity and inclusion centre stage in all that we do, remains firm. I am continuing to co-lead UCL’s work around teaching fellow contracts, and within the Faculty we are progressing our work to end the use of fixed term contracts for teaching fellows except in a limited set of circumstances, and to ensure fair conditions for our PGTAs.
Looking ahead to next week and beyond, I know that many of you are very anxious about what the closure of schools will mean for your ability to work from home, and as the pandemic unfolds, many of us, and our loved ones, will get sick. Our relationships of love and care are, ultimately, what life is all about, and so we must find ways to support each other as we grapple with the intensification of the entanglement of the personal and the professional. The pace of work might have to slow down for many of us, and stop for a while. Work might have to be conducted at odd times, and asynchronously with our colleagues. We might be less responsive. We might be a little short-tempered, and very stressed. We might feel lonely, scared, and overwhelmed. Let’s agree to give each other latitude. Let’s make NNTR (‘no need to reply’) one of our mantras. But let’s also check in on each other, and reach out if we sense someone isn’t ok.
I hope that you are able to have some rest over the next couple of days, as we all reinvent the meaning of the weekend.
Take good care of yourselves and those you love.