March 19, 2020
Message to Graduate Students from Kathleen Canning and Jeffrey Kripal

Dear Humanities Graduate Students,

We hope and trust that you are all staying safe and secure in these anxious times. With the rest of the university leadership, we fully understand that the COVID-19 crisis is putting unprecedented pressures on each of us and on our normal institutional and intellectual practices. We are writing after Provost Matsuda’s helpful email about the same set of issues yesterday (March 18). From correspondence today with Sophia Martinez Abbud, HGSA President, we also understand that some of you have specific unanswered questions, which Sophia has thoughtfully shared with us and that we would like to address to the best of our ability here.

First, it is most important to know that the everyone in our Office and, indeed, in our School and University understands the present flux and uncertainty of the crisis, and that, accordingly, expectations from the University have been and will remain at once generous and flexible. We can also assure you that the faculty have responded to the situation with considerable grace and a remarkable willingness to learn new digital and on-line tools and adjust to the new realities. We are all doing our very best to migrate our undergraduate and graduate courses into an on-line format and, with them, most, if not all, of our other intellectual processes. We also understand that each of you is doing your very best to adjust to the new circumstances, which seem to shift each day, if not each hour. 

Here, then, are some specific answers to a few of your questions: 

On coursework. The Provost and Faculty Senate sent out a message on March 18 stating that no assignments can be due before Friday, March 27. This includes all graduate assignments. This does not include reading assignments for class discussion and analysis. These will continue as is.

On class meetings. Small seminars and classes are not technically barred or prohibited, but they are strongly discouraged. Social distancing is social distancing. Any physical presence in an enclosed room will compromise that safety measure. Classes will continue until the end of the semester in a digital or remote format. These may be conducted in a synchronous (“at the same time”) or asynchronous (“not at the same time”) manner, that is, it is certainly possible for everyone to meet at the same time together via Zoom, but this is not required, and it is probably more reasonable to expect that many classroom discussions will take place via Canvas or via other digital means, since the students are now literally scattered around the country and world in different time zones. Synchronous meetings of the entire class can only be scheduled during the already scheduled class periods in order to protect the students course load and time slots. 

On syllabi. Faculty have been encouraged to change their syllabi to reflect the new needs and limitations of the remainder of the semester. In general, faculty are being encouraged to reduce requirements that would have been reasonable in a residential context but are now unreasonable or overly burdensome in a non-residential context. 

On the library. The library is now technically closed for any physical access. Our hearts sank when we learned of its closure because we were thinking of a number of you who have work spaces in the library and we anticipated the impact that will have on your research and writing. A skeletal staff of librarians will remain on staff and are working remotely like the rest of us. These colleagues will almost certainly be overwhelmed, so please be patient and generous when asking for ILL or other library materials that you might need for your research. There are also numerous library resources available digitally, of course, and we all know that research is a broad and capacious category in which particular books or essays can be engaged at different times. This might well be a situation in which some resources should be accessed after the crisis, not during it. 

On exams and dissertation defenses. All remaining dissertation defenses will be conducted via Zoom or Skype. We assume the same will be true for doctoral exams, which, of course, can easily be submitted via email with a time and date stamp. Please work these details out with your advisors and professors. Lydia and Anna are wonderful resources here and, indeed, are already working closely with each of the students taking doctoral exams this Spring. 

On graduation. As President Leebron has stated, the University has still not made a decision regarding whether the graduation ceremony will be held as scheduled or at a later date. We expect an answer on this one by mid-April. 

On TA Positions for the Big Questions Courses. We are now taking applications for the five Big Question courses to be offered next Fall and Spring. We are very excited about these and hope that you are as well. Please see the HUMA-GRADS email of March 11 as well as the pdf attached below. Please submit the Big Questions TA Application by 11:59 PM on March 25, 2020. Any other questions can be referred to Lydia Westbrook or Anna Julia.

On travel funds. We strongly advise against domestic travel during the crisis. Most domestic academic events for the Spring have been cancelled anyway. Those of you who have already collected funds for travel for a conference or event that was then cancelled should contact Lydia Westbrook or Anna Julia. All international travel, moreover, is prohibited with Rice travel funds through April 30 at this point. We really do not know how long these cancellations and restrictions will last, but it is best to assume that summer funding, which, of course, usually implies summer travel, is also on hold until further notice. Please go ahead with your funding request if it does not involve travel and contact Lydia or Anna with questions. We will all be here for you – to answer questions and trouble-shoot as needed – in the coming weeks. 

We will be setting up a Zoom town hall meeting sometime early next week for all Humanities graduate students interested in joining the conversation. Dean Kripal will host the meeting. Look for an email from us on the same. In the meantime, the Rice Crisis Management Team has provided the following link for all of the most up to date information for the Rice community:  

Finally, should any graduate student experience any undue pressure concerning deadlines, requirements, or other matters from an advisor or other faculty member during this time of crisis, please do not hesitate to contact this Office directly. Dean Kripal should be your first level of contact for this. He can be reached directly at any time at It is probably more effective to write directly to Lydia, Anna, AD Kripal or Dean Canning than reply to this email address: it will reach us directly rather than being routed through the generic School address. Lydia and Anna have also helpfully created a link to help us access the technology needs of particular graduate students. While we cannot promise to fill your needs, we would like to gain an overview of those needs, particularly because we really do not know how long this crisis will continue. The form can be filled out here:

We hope this message has helped allay or lessen your worries in an already anxious time. We really do understand how challenging this is for graduate students in particular and we really do want to help.


Kathleen Canning and Jeff Kripal