Dear Students, Parents, Alumni, Friends, and Visitors,
Spring Break 2020 at the University of Georgia will be remembered by many faculty and staff as a series of long days and late nights moving curricula online, rethinking internship experiences, and repatriating students studying overseas. The results of this work are becoming visible now: thousands of classes taking place remotely, students adjusting to new routines for learning, and staff and administrators providing support where it’s needed. There is also engagement – very intense engagement – involving UGA community members and people working full-time on the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), is right in the thick of the crisis-response. People are looking to UGA and to SPIA and its alumni for answers. A recent Forbes column recommends that the leaders in a pandemic, “becom(e) the trusted source of information in the crisis,” and “[not limit their] humanity: think of others, not only [themselves].” These qualities come to mind when we think about SPIA alumni on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis or SPIA experts who are playing key awareness-raising roles.
Among the experts, Grace Bagwell Adams (MPA ’09, PhD ’13) recently explained the nuances of social distancing in a Red & Black column. Dr. Adams and her frequent collaborator, SPIA Associate Professor Amanda Abraham, and their students who participate in the Athens Wellbeing Project epitomize “trusted sources” of community health information. Other SPIA community members have also shared COVID-19-related information and informed opinions on everything from the impact of COVID-19 on electoral processes (Trey Hood) to competition among states for ventilators (Ben Brujes, MPA ’12, PhD ’16) to the uneasy balance between state-of-emergency measures and civil liberties (Cas Mudde).
As to the leadership trait of “thinking of others, not only themselves”: consider the case of Dr. Deep Shah (AB ’08). He is a community primary care physician in Atlanta and on the front lines of the pandemic. In a co-authored opinion in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dr. Shah calls attention to a crisis within a crisis: the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) for physicians and emergency medical personnel. Inadequate supplies of PPE will be remembered as a signature shortcoming in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Shah’s case, and that of many thousands of healthcare practitioners worldwide, the dearth of high-quality surgical masks, face shields, and gowns, have not stopped them from helping gravely ill patients – at high risk to themselves and to their own families.
When I became dean at SPIA, I hadn’t imagined that the school’s call to public service might entail a call to sacrifice one’s health for the greater good. As of this writing, the pandemic is on an upslope, short of its peak in Georgia, and there are many difficult days ahead. I have never been more proud of SPIA community members who are fighting for our health and safety and who are harvesting lessons to better prepare us for the next public emergency.
We are eager to hear your own stories about responding COVID-19, and we hope you can point us to other alumni, students, or friends engaged in that work. Please consider sharing your story here. We want to celebrate and broadcast the outstanding work you do in your local communities, the nation, and around the world. Thank you for your leadership during this incredibly difficult time.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Matthew R. Auer
School of Public and International Affairs