Grace Under Pressure

March 23, 2020
David N. Hempton
HDS Dean David N. Hempton / Photo: The Memorial Church at Harvard

A message to the HDS community from Dean David N. Hempton

I write amid unprecedented changes in the teaching and working environment at HDS to express my pride and admiration at the way that the School’s community is managing this challenging transition.

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has escalated dramatically in a very short time. (I encourage you to stay up to-date on the School’s response by visiting the Coronavirus page on the HDS website.) Faculty were asked to redesign the last half of their courses and teach online exclusively for the remainder of the semester—not an easy task to complete in only 10 days. Staff too shifted within only a few days from working in their offices to working remotely. My sincere thanks to Kristen Anderson, our administrative dean, who kept track of all the details, participated in early morning phone calls with the central administration, and kept her good humor throughout all the upheaval.

These are big changes for a School whose culture and educational model depend on personal connection and deep listening. That’s why I’m so impressed at the way that the members of the HDS community are adapting, particularly Chief Information Officer Dan Hawkins and the outstanding HDS IT group who make it possible for HDS to operate in this “new normal. Many staff colleagues in Student Services, Academic Affairs, and other offices at HDS also volunteered to help with the transition to teaching on the Zoom platform. I’m deeply grateful to everyone in the HDS community for all they’ve done to sustain the School’s work.

Perhaps most of all, I recognize the stress and strain on our students who now must cope with the fresh challenges of relocation and on-line learning without the close support of peers and mentors. I also know that the postponement of an in-person commencement in May 2020 will be immensely disappointing, however creatively we fashion replacements.

These are stressful times, I know. The facts on the ground seem to change with each day—sometimes with each hour. In the long term, I believe that HDS will gain from this experience new ways of teaching and learning that will vastly enrich the work that we do. In the meantime, please make time for self-care, stay connected, and, above all, be safe and healthy.

Please stay in touch and check on each other (virtually) to be sure that nobody feels forgotten or marginalized in our community and beyond. Please remember, no matter where you are, you are always a cherished member of our community.

Thank you everyone for all you do for Harvard Divinity School and for your partnership as together we face these unprecedented challenges.

David N. Hempton
Dean of the Faculty of Divinity
Alonzo L. McDonald Family Professor of Evangelical Theological Studies
John Lord O'Brian Professor of Divinity