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Dear university members,
Today I would like to welcome you via video message, in my capacity as Rector at the University of Stuttgart – so absolutely contact-free – to the start of the summer semester 2020.
Alongside the many students who are already enrolled at the University of Stuttgart, I would also like to especially welcome the new students who are beginning the first semester of their Master’s study program and to all those who have changed universities and are new to the University of Stuttgart.
In these challenging times, I consider it important to address you personally. First and foremost: I hope that you and your families and friends are all fit and healthy!
Life in Germany, Europe and all over the world has changed unexpectedly quickly and fundamentally. The COVID-19 virus is infecting our society at an exponential rate, particularly high-risk groups, such as older people, or those with weak immune systems, but it is not only those groups who are affected. This is a global pandemic, our health care systems are at risk of collapse and we are hoping and praying that those who are close to us remain healthy. Some of us are grieving for family members they have lost. Furthermore, as a result of contact restrictions and lockdowns, many people are facing an uncertain economic existence, and many are suffering from anxiety for a variety of other reasons. These are very emotional times, regardless of whether we see the pictures and read reports, or are directly affected.
The University of Stuttgart is also facing huge challenges due to the corona pandemic. We would usually be looking forward the beginning of the semester, to seeing old friends, to going to lectures and drinking coffee with friends, to studying together in a sunny auditorium, or warm weather on campus – not to mention student parties, open-air events and much more. But none of that is possible at the moment.
But we will begin the summer semester nevertheless – and we want to! We will all come together and do our best to ensure that it works and that you don’t lose a semester of study.
Our top priority is to protect university members. We have taken numerous precautions at our university to ensure that the chance of getting infected is a low as possible and that we slow the spread of the virus where possible. To keep up to date with the newest information, please visit the university’s corona web pages regularly – these are updated daily, in addition to the messages we post on social media channels and emails sent to your university email address. This is important, because information is changing constantly and, in this way, we are able to react and inform you as quickly as possible.
What will university teaching be like during the corona crisis? This question concerns all of us.
Teaching at the university is brought to life by personal contacts in the auditoriums, during seminars, in the laboratories or when you speak to your tutors. At the University of Stuttgart, such personal contact is very important, which is why digital teaching has been used to enrich lectures in the past, but never to completely replace them.
In just a very short space of time, we are now required to organize online teaching for 25,000 students – with very few exceptions, such as some specific internships for example – for the entire summer semester. The summer semester 2020 will be a digital semester! This is a challenge that needs to be faced by each and every one of us: students, teachers, employees, and anyone else involved. A further issue is that we also need to expand our technical capabilities in just a short period of time so that everyone can use the new digital teaching and learning formats. It is unlikely that everything will work smoothly right from the beginning, but we will do our very best to make this semester a success. Everything that I have seen over the last few days in relation to online events on our teaching platform ILIAS has convinced me that the new measures will work. We have learnt a lot over the last few weeks. Now we need to view the entire range of digital technologies as an opportunity to develop teaching content, to view it from a new perspective, and to exchange knowledge and experience.
We need to establish new and more flexible rules, while simultaneously ensuring that we adhere to legal requirements. This also includes examinations that were postponed in the winter semester 2019/2020 and which will be held during the summer semester 2020. Please check our homepage and the campus management system C@MPUS for current examination dates and requirements. We are also in close contact with the relevant ministries and other universities, which is a very positive aspect.
The university administration is doing its very best to ensure that students and doctoral students are not disadvantaged by the current situation, but also all university employees and academic staff members, as far as this is possible. This semester will be different for everyone.
In such uncertain times, we must all learn and experiment. Please be patient – not only with those around you, but also with yourself!
I ask that you, dear students, as digital experts, have patience with your professors and other teaching staff, as well as technical assistants and administrative staff. Give them a chance to get to grips with the new situation, which many are currently tackling from home.
I ask that you, dear colleagues, show your students the same patience, and to bear in mind that they are often dealing with economic challenges, for example due to being unable to work, alongside trying to solve an issues with their study programs or examinations.
The summer semester 2020 will only succeed if we all work together and show an understanding for each other. This includes not only showing good will, but also the ability to give constructive feedback and share creative ideas.
I would like to thank you all for your trust, and the commitment you have shown over the last few weeks. I am very proud of the commitment and helpfulness that you have shown at the University of Stuttgart – and not only in relation to digital teaching, but also in wider society.
For example, stuvus, our student council, very quickly began to develop an online helper pool to help associations and organizations deal with the current situation.
The solidarity on show beyond the university campus and even beyond state boundaries is impressive: last week we were able to support our partner university in Bergamo, one of the worst-hit cities in Italy, with 3D printed protective face masks, produced by our colleagues at the research campus ARENA2036, with help from many other university employees. These face shields will primarily be sent to clinics and doctors’ practices in the region, who are in direct contact with COVID-19 patients.
In times of crisis, we all rely on mutual support and solidarity. Keep helping others wherever you can! Support those who need help! Take care of others – and of yourself. I wish you strength for the future and the belief that this difficult time will pass. We might not know when that will be, but I am looking forward to it! I hope that you and your families overcome the challenges we are currently facing and that you all stay healthy!
I wish you all the best – and a good start in the summer semester!