Rector Jaroslav Miller on the emergency situation: Solidarity and responsibility are what we need now

Jaroslav Miller.
Photo: Gabriela Knýblová
sunday 15. march 2020, 12:50

Dear colleagues, university employees and students,

„Big events“ in history are usually not concerned with our individual dreams, desires, and goals. They violently intrude into our lives, forcing us to stop, change our behaviour, and above all to be achingly aware that we are not the absolute lords of this world, and sometimes we have to adjust to the ingresses of a higher power. The events of last week without a doubt fall into this category. The promising summer semester under way has been dramatically interrupted by the expanding global pandemic of the coronavirus, and the leadership of Palacký University Olomouc, in conjunction with the measures of the Czech Government, has decided to completely suspend physical classes, limit entry to the majority of university facilities, and apply a number of necessary restrictive and hygienic measures. The university is supposed to teach and conduct research. Crowds of hurrying students and academics are an integral part of university life – the hubbub in faculty courtyards, the hundreds of student activities. This is why it was so difficult for me to face the fact that we might, although temporarily, have to give all this up.

At first glance, the measures taken may seem too stringent to some. Why should the university close its laboratories? Wouldn’t teaching be possible at least in smaller groups, where the risk of infection is also quite small? Why did we have to close the libraries? I and my colleagues, who have helped carry the burden of these decisions, are well aware that students need to study for tests, exams, and degrees, they have to finish their theses, and they have many other study commitments which are required. There are of course a number of reasons for our actions. I’d like to name but one, which is important to me personally and which reflects solidarity and intergenerational understanding. Many of our colleagues, due to age or health reasons, fall into the groups which in the current situation can be threatened more – and more fatally – than others. Because Palacký University is made up of a united community of academics, students, and all its other employees, we have to protect those of us who are subject to the greatest risk.

Our community is crucial in today’s situation

The word “community” is absolutely crucial for me in today’s crisis situation, because it refers to the kinship of people overseeing a shared goal, to solidarity, mutual aid and understanding. In just the first week we have exhibited the meaning of community to its fullest, and I am humbled before the sacrifice, drive, and charity of our colleagues and students. I would like to take this occasion to truly thank the students of the Faculties of Medicine & Dentistry and Healthcare Sciences for help in hospitals and healthcare facilities in these times when the workforce is spread thin. Students of the Faculty of Education volunteered to babysit the children of University Hospital Olomouc employees, and the Sts Cyril and Methodius Theological Faculty is offering help regarding social and psychological aspects. Gradually volunteer activities at other faculties have joined in. The UP Communications Office under the leadership of Petr Bilík is working 24 hours a day in order for you to be timely and particularly informed on all the essentials. UP dormitories and dining halls under the stewardship of Josef Suchánek during the forced restrictive measures are trying to approach normal operations and meet all of you at least half-way. Operationally, for example, they have bought packaging equipment, and the main dining hall will continue to serve food on premises as well as now to go – to the best of its abilities and capacity. So too the central library, which although it has had to close its doors, after meetings with its director, Helena Sedláčková, the library has decided to put into operations an emergency yet effective system of borrowing so that students may continue to study for their upcoming exams. I have to give my utmost thanks to the non-academic employees of the university, working under such stressful conditions. Above all, our maintenance and cleaning staff.

Although physical classes have been suspended, we have seen that that all clouds have a silver lining. One of these is the unexpected development of e-learning tools and methods. Teachers have reacted flexibly and many of them have switched to on-line teaching. Also deserving our thanks for superb collaboration in this respect is the UP Computer Centre. Nor can I omit our foreign students, for whom the current situation is quite demanding from the psychological perspective. Please help them, if in need. The UP International Relations Office under Vice-Rector Kudláček is working to the utmost limits of their abilities, however individual help and timely advice are appreciated when in need. Please excuse me for having certainly omitted other examples of sacrifice and goodwill. I appreciate the altruistic help of you all.

The hectic developments of the past days have placed enormous demands on organisation, crisis management, and logistics. With the general short supply of disinfectant materials, for example I have had to transform myself into a middleman and quite non-rectorly cajole the rector of a friendly university to urgently provide UP with 120 litres of disinfectant gel made in the laboratories of Tomas Bata University. This example shows that the current, unprecedented situation is forcing us to improvise more than we dared hope. You may occasionally have the feeling that everything could work better and more quickly. We ask for your tolerance and generosity. Just like everybody else, we are learning as we go along, and doing everything in our powers and abilities.

You will not miss out on the joy of graduation ceremonies

Dear students, I know that you are most interested in how long the temporary closing of the university will last, and what will happen regarding finishing the semester in terms of your tests and exams. My honest answer to the first question at this time is: I do not know whether the suspension of classes will last until mid-April or longer. However, as soon as it is remotely possible, we will be back on normal track. Of course you will be regularly informed on developments via the university web pages. The answer to the second question is clear: the semester will be carried out, even if under extraordinary conditions (one possibility is extending classes into June). Compulsory exams will take place, state exams will be held, study requirements will be fulfilled, and parents will even have the chance to weep during graduation ceremonies. The university will coordinate the entire process (with the exception of parental tears); however, the specifics will be up to the individual faculties. I would like to thank all our deans for showing true leadership and for their flexible approach to changes in the timetable.

In closing, I would like to try to cheer all of us up a bit. The university in Olomouc has gone through many dramatic moments in its almost half-millennium history. It was here in 1573, it is still here in 2020, and it will continue to serve its country steadfastly. The thanks for this are due above all to our wonderful employees and students. We should not lose heart about the reality surrounding us, for there is no reason to do so. Sooner or later, this epidemic will end. Let’s rejoice that we have (re)discovered solidarity, humbleness and tolerance, those same values which seemed to have fallen by the wayside on our journey from 1989 to 2020. It occurred to me that it has been thirty years since UP was last closed. I hope that we are now having our portion of bad luck for at least the next three decades to come.

Dear colleagues and students, I hope that we will ALL meet again soon, and return to the university in full force. Together, we will get through this.

Jaroslav Miller

PS: Please monitor all the latest information on the special UP web page.

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