A Letter from the Chair

Department Chair Dr. Chris Morrow

I have always found something special about the first line of a work of literature – especially when it comes to novels. Whenever I begin a new book, I stop after the first line to let it sink in. That first line is the author reaching out across time and space to invite me into her world and entice me to keep reading. Sometimes first lines are enigmatic such as Octavia Butler’s opening line to Kindred, “I lost an arm on my last trip home.”  Sometimes they are funny like Patrick Ness’s opening to his YA novel, The Knife of Never Letting Go, “The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” They can even be repetitive. The great writer of my generation, Snoopy from Peanuts always starts by writing, “It was a dark and stormy night…”  

Over the last several months, in the grip of a global pandemic, many of the emails in my inbox have started like one of Snoopy’s stories: “These are unprecedented times.” Truth be told, I probably started an email or two of my own with a similar phrase. And, I guess that sentiment is true enough.  But, like anything oft repeated it soon loses its meaning.  So, if you will allow me, I would like to restart this letter with a new opening line:

These are precedented times.  

Despite the uncertainty of the world around us and the drastic changes to our educational system and our lives, it is the persistence and resilience of the faculty and students that stand out most to me about the last months of the Spring semester.

I witnessed WIU students from a wide variety of ethnic, economic, and regional backgrounds demonstrate the same desire to learn and thirst for knowledge they always have. They adjusted to new academic routines, adapted to new technologies, and did so with the same spirit of collegiality I have come to expect from our students. They did not allow the pandemic to compromise their education.

I also witnessed faculty demonstrate the same dedication to providing the best education possible for these students. They also learned new technologies, experimented with new ways of teaching, and continued to advocate for their students – whether it was providing access to technology, being communicated with in a timely manner, ensuring their safety, or honoring their achievements. Faculty also participated in online scholarship and commencement ceremonies and took time out of their schedules to record video messages for our majors and our graduates.  

As I write, plans for the fall semester are still developing. However, I take comfort in the knowledge that whatever the first line of our department’s novel, the theme will continue to be a fierce commitment to education and to the well-being of our communities.