Dear members of the University of Stuttgart,
to begin the summer weeks, which may afford us a well-earned break, relaxation and a certain distance from everyday happenings in the world of academia, I would like to take the opportunity to write a few warm greetings.
Words such as "distance" and "everyday" that we once used so unhesitatingly and unthinkingly, no longer role so easily off the tongue in these difficult times: we all have a few difficult weeks behind us, where we all missed and longed for academic exchanges, personal contact, where we were forced to arrange an everyday existence characterized by social distancing, a form of pandemic social distancing previously unknown to us.
But nevertheless, I would like to say a few words about the challenging weeks of teaching and examinations already behind us and about studying and researching in the summer semester 2020. Despite the difficulties, our creativity, solidarity and effort have ensured that the summer semester will remain in our memory, and that it did not simply become a lost semester. It was a semester that opened our eyes to the fact - sometimes with surprise and even delight - that with extraordinary effort, optimism and foresightedness we were able to develop new strengths and focuses.
And that is why, as Rector of our university, I would like to say a very warm "thank you" to all of you:
- to the students, doctoral students and academic staff who helped us to master the challenges and, yes, the adversities, of rapidly and radically developing a system for virtual teaching and an examination period that proved difficult to organize in such difficult conditions;
- to the teaching staff, who were required to develop a way of digitally communicating complex teaching content with no warning and ad hoc, and this despite the fact that technical expertise and resources were sometime lacking;
- to the employees at the Central Administration and at decentral facilities who were required to implement the Sars-CoV-2 hygiene concept, the Corona Guidelines for university operations and exam regulations, in accordance with the relevant version of the state’s Corona Guidelines, sometimes overnight or at the weekend.
I would like to thank all committed academics, students and employees, who not only had to deal with the constraints and difficulties of life during the corona pandemic, but who also demonstrated solidarity and selfless commitment by supporting those who were hit much harder by the pandemic. Regardless of whether they helped producing face shields and sending these to other countries hit by the crisis, or voluntarily offered to help across the region, or provided emotional musical comfort for our friends in Italy.
I would like to thank the members of the rectorate, for the fact that I, as Rector, was always absolutely certain that with such a team of leaders, we would successfully find the best way through this difficult situation, be it in the fields of research, knowledge and technology transfer, early career researchers and diversity, and last but not least, in the areas of teaching and information technology and administration, which faced particularly significant challenges.
We all came together and did a "good job". We ensured that our university continued to function in an exemplary way even in a time of great threat. That this sentence is far from a "pro domo" statement, is demonstrated by a survey conducted by student representatives stuvus, the evaluation of the quality development at the university and, last but not least, by the positive feedback that we have received from our partners outside the university and from the responsible state ministry. We have also been praised for our information and communication policies. The news ticker, edited and updated by the University Communications department right from the beginning of the crisis, also helped to ensure that all developments and decisions were communicated transparently and reliably both internally and externally.
Based on our performance, we can be absolutely certain that the coming winter semester 2020/21 will also be just as successful. So much is certain - the coming semester will be a mostly digital semester, and this will remain so, as long as we are unable to control the developments of the pandemic, and as long as there is no available vaccine.
We are of course worried that the personal dialogue, so essential in research and teaching will no longer be possible as we know it, at least if both campuses must remain closed due to corona.
We are of course concerned that the excellent research and teaching at our university might be affected if the restrictions remain, or if they must be tightened once more in the case of a second corona wave.
And we are also concerned about our students, currently in their first semester, that we might be unable to reach some of them and that we may lose them, because they are unable to experience the academic community on campus and will miss out on the solidarity and stimulus that this affords. The same applies to our international students, who probably won’t be able to visit us in Stuttgart, to study and live with us.
Nonetheless, what I wrote in my letter to students in mid-April at the start of the summer semester also still applies: with a view to our experience and performance over the last few weeks, we can now be optimistic that we can also successfully face the challenges of the winter semester 2020/21: "All will be well in the end - even if not everything works 100 percent perfectly!"
I wish you all a relaxing and healthy summer in Germany’s beautiful and cultural holiday regions!
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