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New Academic Year Underway After Challenging Start

Dr. Joseph Savoie -- Thu, 09/01/2016 - 8:30am

Dear Faculty and Staff Members,

Welcome to a new academic year, and welcome to our new faculty and staff members. Hopefully, you are settling in.

What an unexpected start we had to this semester!

The recent historic flooding has directly impacted dozens of university faculty and staff and hundreds of our students and their families.

First, let me commend all of you who contributed to help one another, in whatever manner, whether it’s been physical, philanthropic or emotional support. It’s the communal force of our region that makes south Louisiana such a great place to live.

Thanks to those who helped with rescheduled move-in days; successfully conducted orientation sessions for new students, international students and graduate students; and participated in the two-day Cajun Connection for freshmen. And, thank you, to those of you who extended courtesies and kindness – by covering classes and administrative responsibilities of colleagues.

The University is taking steps to help our employees and students. We distributed supplies donated by the University of South Alabama. We are working with students as they try to get back to everyday life and focus on academics.  Along those lines, we are dedicating donations made to the University Annual Fund through Sept. 30 to aid students facing unexpected expenses since the flood.

We postponed tuition payment deadlines, are providing payment plan options for students and are providing campus housing to as many students as possible.

For employees, the University will grant “special leave” to classified or unclassified employees who were significantly affected by the flooding.

“Special leave” maintains employees on the payroll with full benefits, with no reduction of annual, sick or compensatory leave balances. This benefit will include employees who were directly affected or absent from work to assist family members, co-workers, or neighbors who were affected by the flood.  Human Resources will be distributing special leave request forms shortly.

After events such as this, many of our colleagues and students are stressed and challenged. So, now is a time for extraordinary kindness, empathy and courtesy. As a reminder, year-round, we offer free counseling for employees and students – anyone who needs someone to talk to. Please take advantage of the resources at the Counseling and Testing Center on Hebrard Boulevard.

Prior to the flood, we experienced a number of other tragedies earlier this summer that gave us pause, from the shootings at an Orlando nightclub to the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge to the murders of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

These events fostered apprehension and uncertainty. But, they also reminded us that the University is a place where we can discuss critical issues such as diversity and inclusion, in a safe, non-threatening environment.

In light of the tragic events that unfolded this summer throughout the country, I have been inspired by the students, faculty and staff who have come together to engage in fruitful conversations to facilitate cross-cultural learning.

The University is committed to providing resources to support students, faculty and staff to navigate these discussions inside and outside the classroom.  Some highlights of recent initiatives include:

    yoUnite Series, a new project to engage student leaders in conversations about hot-button topics in our world;
    “Courageous Conversations,” informal roundtable discussions for faculty and staff to share best practices for inclusive teaching; and
    Project ALLIES, a network of informed students, faculty and staff who will foster a climate in which all members of the University community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, may feel safe, supported, respected and affirmed.

As an educational institution, it is our goal to create opportunities to learn, to critically examine the world around us, and to strive to solve complex issues.

If you missed the State of the University last week, view my presentation online.

Thank you for all that you do to positively impact our University community.

Have a great semester!

Dr. E. Joseph Savoie