Using ‘good’ pandemic lessons into new ways of doing business – 1.29.21
Letter from Dean Sive - January 29, 2021

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,

I wrote this a while ago for a story slam, and it seems pertinent to where we are today.
“One evening last fall I drove down a hill on Commonwealth Avenue to a striking sunset scene – a flock of birds silhouetted against the bright orange sky. It occurred to me then, that I was going home and the birds were going home, and the bees were at home and the chipmunks. That indeed, most animals have a home – and at the next stop light, I mused about a biological ‘home’ concept – defining the safest place to be, where you can be your most relaxed.

Anyway, when I got home that evening, there was a scratching in the wall of my daughter’s room. The scratching went on for a couple of weeks, so I called Critter Control who advertised humane pest removal. I liked the person who arrived because he had a long beard and a plaid shirt that looked humane to me. He explored and then reported it was a flying squirrel. Wow. I looked on Google and they are beautiful, with big eyes and a built-in wing-suit so they can glide from tree to tree, at night which is their time. No worries he said – I’ll put the squirrel in the yard and close up where it got in. Fantastic. Thank you. Done.

But a few weeks later, when the weather was cold and raw, I was getting things together for the giveaway and opened the top drawer of the built-in unit in my daughter’s room. Now the back of this unit opens into a sort of secret passageway along the wall that leads outside. As I looked down into the drawer, I said ‘Oh’, because there was the squirrel’s nest. The drawer was full of socks and the squirrel had molded these into a perfect circle with a shallow bit in the middle, just the right size for a flying squirrel or two. Neatly placed around the nest were five or six big, round black walnut fruits. And I suddenly realized what I had done. That squirrel had discovered the secret passageway to this cozy place and had made the strategic decision to call it home. Those fruits were half the size of the squirrel and it had carried each hundreds of feet from the nearest tree. It was a Big Production to make that nest. I bet there’s a region of the brain that lights up when we think about home (colleagues in Psychology, your thoughts?), and I bet that region was all lit up in the squirrel’s brain, knowing it was set for winter. But with one phone call, I had destroyed the plan.

I felt terrible. Of course, you know how it goes, when you feel terrible about one thing, you start feeling terrible about related things until there’s a big heap of remorse. I felt guilty about the animals whose homes we destroy by cutting down forests, about people whose homes are not safe places, or who are homeless. Help. I closed the drawer and went to my computer where I donated to MHSA, an organization that fights homelessness, and felt a tiny bit better. As I was finishing, I glanced out the window. The sky was pink, and some geese were calling as they made their way home for the night.” (The End)

During this pandemic that continues to be so draining, there has been some good. While for some of you, working remotely has been very stressful, and you are looking forward to returning to campus, some of you are reporting the good parts of working from home. To have a less frenetic morning, to have lunch with your partner or kids, to have a couple more hours for exercise. Several of you have reported that you can be more responsive to your students online, and they are more likely to be in contact with you. Along with eagerness to be vaccinated and move past COVID, there is also some anxiety about losing the equanimity of working from home.

We hear you. We are addressing this. Some work in our College is best done on campus – much of our research, much of our teaching, some staff positions. But with no lowered intensity or productivity, some work can be done remotely, or in a hybrid model. I am committed to turning ‘good’ pandemic lessons into new ways of doing business in our College. Within Northeastern guidelines and policy, I am confident that we can develop a new remote/hybrid work model. Wherever we work, we will do so together, with kindness and respect, promoting excellence in our College of Science, and at Northeastern.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University