“Go vaccines!” Somewhere in my Lower East Side neighborhood lives a person who has been pasting exhortatory homemade stickers on streetlight poles and fences since the pandemic began, and I want to shout out the latest one to the rooftops. I’m deeply impressed by the achievements of the ACLS staff, our fellows, fellowship reviewers, partners in our Consortium and Associate network, and colleagues around the world through the “Long 2020” of remote work. I also know I’m not alone in feeling intense desire to move into the next stage, as vaccinations roll on. But I don’t want to “go back” to “normal” life. Together with colleagues and friends, I want to reach for a new balance of work and life, hopefully one less burdened by anxiety about public health and socioeconomic collapse, freer to focus on designing a future of greater equity for all.

These aren’t just words to us at ACLS. We want to learn from our experience through this pandemic how best to ease the burdens carried by many: by scholars who are caregivers and parents, disabled scholars, and scholars lacking regular income, to name just a few. As we plan for the near future, we commit to listening carefully to these and other voices, with the goal of avoiding rushing back to a “normal” that in fact never felt normal or good to everyone. For every person who can’t wait for their last Zoom meeting, there is someone for whom Zoom has been a godsend. We’ll all pitch into the work of re-designing old habits to retain the equity-increasing benefits we have discovered in the past year.

Speaking of equity: this week we are poised to welcome participants to the first meeting of the Intention Foundry, generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Known as the Mellon “Summer Institutes” before the pandemic, and renamed to reflect their action-oriented nature, the first iteration of these convenings will bring together learned society leadership and emerging scholars from 30 of our member learned societies in two series of meetings in April and June.

The Institutes are being led by our Program Officer for Higher Education Initiatives, Dr. Jovonne Bickerstaff, with support from members of ACLS staff and Samira Abdul-Karim of Hyphens and Spaces, with whom we undertook work to deepen our understanding of and establish goals for our anti-racist initiative at ACLS. Working over Zoom, Jovonne will do exercises in problem-setting – seeking to move towards greater equity and inclusion in the academy.

Later this month Vice President James Shulman and I, working with design thinking consultant Elizabeth Peaslee, will greet the fifty-odd participants in our Design Workshop for a New Academy, an effort made possible by the Henry Luce Foundation. The Workshop is a collection of teams from half a dozen research universities and a dozen individual participants. The teams include people from across the academic side of the university: administration, tenure-line faculty members, contract or contingent faculty members, and graduate students. The individuals in the Workshop and in our Steering Committee include writers and thinkers about change in higher education, faculty and administrators in schools outside arts and science, and voices from the business side of higher education. The common questions that have emerged in our pre-workshop discussions revolve around the nature of faculty work, doctoral education, department and program design, and the relationships that faculty have across a given school’s constituencies. We’ll meet intensively over the course of two months, and we hope to publicize our results widely. Watch this space!

We will once again hold our 2021 Annual Meeting virtually April 22 and 23. This year’s highlights include a special session for our Associate Members to review strategies to draw more undergraduate students to humanistic studies, as well as a panel discussion I will lead on career diversity with some of our fellows.

Best wishes from all of us at ACLS for a healthy spring.  Go vaccines!

Joy Connolly