Dear UCLA Humanities Family:
As I write this, we have successfully navigated seven weeks of remote teaching, learning, and administration at UCLA. While the transition to remote classrooms came with unprecedented challenges, it also revealed new strengths within our community. I am deeply grateful to the faculty, teaching assistants, staff, students, and supporters who have shown immense resilience, joining together on short notice to make our remote classrooms work.
Because you have shown such concern and support for the humanities at UCLA, I want to keep you informed about the latest developments in the division and our plans for navigating this changing landscape. For a sense of how UCLA is responding at the campus level, please explore the links to COVID-19 resources that are available on this central website, which includes answers to FAQ, updates on enrollment and course materials, information about counseling and psychological services, communications from UCLA Health, and more.
We have seen acts of ingenuity and positive developments across our entire division. The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, which teaches the modern languages of the Middle East—Arabic, Hebrew, Armenian, Persian and Turkish—has nimbly transitioned to expanded teaching of these rarely taught languages remotely. This is a true service to our heritage learners, and one that we plan to continue offering for as long as possible. In addition, the UCLA Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, whose mission is to place Hellenic culture within a broad historical and contemporary context, has created the Kouvenda initiative to allow students of Modern Greek language and members of the community to meet virtually and converse in Greek.
Meanwhile, the Department of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Languages and Cultures, which houses one of the best Russian language programs in the country, introduced three new remote courses this spring. Two of these—one an introduction to the history, culture and politics of Kazakhstan, and the other an introduction to the Kazakh language—represent our first venture in the cultural space of Eurasia, a critical move in expanding our academic mission. The third course, “Introduction to Slavic, East European and Central Asian Cultures Through Film,” offers another important gateway for students who want to explore these rich and diverse cultures. We are excited to move such initiatives forward as we adapt to current circumstances and the demands of the future.
Offering a world-class education for our students remains our foremost priority during this time. To maximize our potential for serving them remotely, a group of English faculty members created a repository of helpful resources, tips and best practices for remote instruction. This document is tailored to help the vast number of English faculty and lecturers across the entire department navigate this transition to distance learning. And to maintain continuity in teaching, the Department of Linguistics purchased a number of tablets with styluses to lend to teaching assistants who need the ability to use a whiteboard in their weekly sections, such as for phonetic transcriptions and phonological feature matrices. These are just some of the ways that we are working to ensure students can continue to learn with as little disruption as possible.
To keep our community safe as well as engaged, departments have pivoted to new strategies for hosting events and keeping participants informed. The Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (CMRS) regularly shares the latest news, discoveries, and dialogue in the field through daily posts on their Facebook page. CMRS also hosts its own podcast, which has been used to share audio recordings from past conferences and events. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Center has likewise embraced our new digital landscape by launching a collaborative lecture series with the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece. The series, to be held via Zoom, features curators from the museum and affiliated scholars lecturing on aspects of the museum’s impressive collections. The first lecture, by Professor Anastasia Drandaki, took place on May 7 and focused on the Valadoros Epitaphios, a masterpiece of the early 14th century that was part of a bequest to the museum by the siblings Anastasios and Maria Valadoros.
Additionally, this month The Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies will begin a series of online programming starting with the annual Naftulin Family Lecture on Studies in Jewish Identity, presenting Professor David Myers in conversation with author and lecturer Benjamin Balint about his book Jerusalem: City of the Book (2019), an acclaimed exploration of Jerusalem’s libraries. There are many ways to virtually engage with our academic research centers and departments, and I encourage you to visit the links embedded in my message to learn more.
As I mentioned in my last message, I am teaching an undergraduate course this quarter, Organizational Analysis and Workforce Readiness, and continuing to navigate the unique challenges that come along with remote teaching. That said, holding this course remotely has presented exciting opportunities to welcome visiting speakers from around the U.S. to connect directly with our students. It has been a joy to watch as these smart, visionary young people learn from experts with deep experience in leadership—and to get a sense of some of the things the students themselves are likely to teach us as they grow into the world.
It is truly inspiring to see our humanities community come together to preserve and enhance our educational offerings, and to optimize the learning experience for students. While we can’t yet be together in person, we look forward to remaining connected virtually as we move toward these shared goals. As always, I would welcome hearing from you if you have questions, concerns, or ideas to share.
Thank you, and please stay safe and be well.
Dean of Humanities
Professor of Asian Languages & Cultures