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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

From the Dean

Lee M. Cohen, PhD

Lee M. Cohen, PhD, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Professor of Psychology

Since the spring, we have been riding new waves of change on an unprecedented scale—as individuals, as members of the University of Mississippi community, and as a society. If there’s anything we’ve learned in the past few months, it’s that to advance, innovate, and create, we must simultaneously embrace and drive change. As such, it has been a time for deep reflection and action, in the College and beyond.

In the midst of this pandemic there has been a simultaneous powerful reckoning with systemic racism and its tragic consequences on a global, national, and local scale. The College is working hard to learn, grow, and innovate in the context of these challenges so that we can become stronger than ever.

We were galvanized into action in the spring, when we had to transition to a campus that was primarily remote. This was truly an unbelievable effort that could not have been accomplished without a very strong team of individuals. I would like to acknowledge the resilient leadership of our Chancellor Glenn Boyce, Provost Noel Wilkin, and Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Larry Sparks, who have been effectively navigating a situation that none of us has ever faced and one that will likely have long-lasting implications on higher education. We are truly fortunate to have them at the helm.

It has also been inspiring to see how our talented faculty adapted curriculum and reinvented their classrooms remotely. Their message to students was simple but powerful, “We’re all in this together.” Faculty spent hours on Zoom with students leading classes, guiding research projects, and providing invaluable mentorship to give them the personal attention that has long been the trademark of our university. They maintained the strong connection with students.

None of this would have been possible without the support of the university’s IT team, led by Nishanth Rodrigues, who enabled us to keep going. Additionally, we had campus wide Keep Teaching, Keep Learning, and Keep Discovering initiatives to help students and faculty during this difficult time.

Equally essential was our Student Services Office, led by Carmen Riggan, who ensured students were prepared to graduate. They also personally called each CLA student who was without a fall schedule or who was reported as not engaging with their virtual classes to see what they could do to help, connecting students with needed resources and lending a supportive ear.

And last but not least, our students were amazing and have proved to be adept virtual scholars. They doubled down on their coursework and surmounted countless difficulties, including family crises, to complete the spring semester successfully.

In May, we knew we’d landed on our feet as a College when 688 undergraduate and 72 graduate students earned their degree. Unfortunately, we could not celebrate their achievements together, although we were able to provide a poem written and read by Mississippi poet laureate, Professor Beth Ann Fennelly, as well as video messages of congratulations from faculty and me.

During that same month we were celebrating the achievements of our students, we also witnessed the senseless murder of George Floyd. In response, I sent a message to the CLA community urging all of us to challenge inequality and injustice in every aspect of our lives. As Dean, I reaffirm the College’s commitment to inclusivity and equity. We are working on an equity action plan deeply informed by the experiences and needs of our students, staff, and faculty. I encourage you to read the column on the next page to learn more.

I am proud to say that CLA students have been at the forefront of making our campus a more inclusive place. President of the Associated Student Body, Joshua Mannery (BA English, political science ’21), became a catalyst for positive change, launching initiatives like the Stronger Together Dialogue Series: Unpacking the Manifestation of Racism Throughout America, and the Open Doors event that brought together UM students and administration to break bread in a communal dinner and get to know each other as individuals.

As we begin the 2020-2021 academic year, we will rise to the challenge, doing so with an unwavering commitment to the dignity and wellbeing of every member of our campus community. And as creative thinkers in the Liberal Arts, we will continue to drive change for a better future. I sincerely hope that you are safe and well during this unprecedented time.