January 25, 2021

Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,

I write you after probably the most tumultuous intersession we have ever experienced. The events of the past weeks regarding the presidential transition have been at turns shocking and sobering. Yet after the attacks on our Capitol and the subsequent loss of life, our nation proudly and calmly inaugurated its next president and pathbreaking vice president (I particularly like the fact that she is the first vice president whose parents both immigrated to this country to earn their PhDs). If ever a case was made for the importance of liberal arts and of a Hobart and William Smith education to our society—for the need for free inquiry, debate across difference and unfettered truth—it was made over these past few weeks. How fortunate are you students, some of whom will be studying American politics and discussing the principles of democracy, some studying macroeconomics and considering what our economic recovery path will be, some studying media and society to dissect how perceptions are created and manipulated, and all of whom are taking coursework that helps shape you as members of an educated, engaged and consequential citizenry. How fortunate we on campus are to be in an environment that aspires simultaneously to transmit, respect and interrogate knowledge; an environment where we all continually aspire to respect the rule of law, and treat each other with dignity and kindness. I try my best to live up to our community values daily and I know you all do as well.

Meanwhile the pandemic rages on, albeit with rays of hope showing through as vaccine production and distribution ramps up and the winter surge starts to abate. We continue to apply the lessons learned from last semester to provide a safe community on campus and in the local region. Our medical center staff and some of our faculty have begun receiving their vaccinations, and we hope that the rest of our staff and students will be eligible before too long. We will continue our safety protocols on campus until the area prevalence drops, the vaccine is widely available and state distancing controls are lifted. We must continue to demonstrate the will to maintain a safe campus while we continue to pursue knowledge and human development. The student affairs and athletics staff, under the lead of Vice President for Campus Life Robb Flowers, are constantly considering how to improve the student experience, and we continue to monitor the situation and hope that we will be able to increase activities as the term progresses.

As we continue through what I have labeled our Year of Engagement, I have been heartened throughout, including during intersession, at how we’ve continued to maintain community and engagement with one another. Alumni and alumnae relations ran a first-ever series of virtual toasts to the New Year for class years stretching back to 1949, and I enjoyed seeing both familiar and new faces during those Zooms. During our pilot January-term, 12 faculty taught remote courses with more than 150 students enrolled; we look forward to continuing this initiative in the years to come. The Salisbury Center for Career Services ran virtual versions of our Career Treks during January, and by all accounts those were successful initiatives although we would rather have been able to do them in person. But I also know we have much more to do to make our community a more welcoming place for all, and I remain dedicated to solidifying our continuing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Vice President for Diversity Equity and Inclusion Khuram Hussain will report to our community later this week on all the work that the DEI office and collaborators across campus have been doing to improve our environment. Provost and Dean of Faculty Mary Coffey and the faculty have been discussing DEI issues and curricular change since last fall, including during a faculty curriculum institute last week. I greatly appreciate the faculty’s willingness to consider the longer arc of curricular development during a time when they are also very busy continuing to manage the pandemic’s effects on their teaching and research.

There are bright days ahead for the Colleges. Next week, on Feb. 3, we celebrate Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s bicentennial birthday, including presenting the Blackwell Award to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family in honor of her splendid life. On Feb. 3, we will also be announcing our 2021 honorary degree recipients, including our 2021 commencement speaker, who will also be receiving a Blackwell Award. And, while it is still a year off, preparations have started for celebrating in 2022 the Hobart College bicentennial in honor of one of the oldest colleges in this country. We are building a better Hobart and William Smith for all, together, and I thank you for your continued partnership in this endeavor.


Joyce P. Jacobsen

P.S. Best wishes to Buccs #74 Ali Marpet ’15 for the Super Bowl!