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'Back to Normalcy!'

Date:14 April 2020
Jouke de Vries
Jouke de Vries

Honestly, when the University of Groningen announced that it was transitioning to online teaching and limited UG building opening hours, I thought I would get more time off. Nothing could be further from the truth. Online meetings have turned out to merely add to the workload, rather than to reduce it. What used to be a virtual world has become the real world. But for how long? When the time comes, will we go back to how things used to be? A study conducted by the highly acclaimed MIT states: 'We are not going back to normal!' MIT researchers claim that the COVID-19 virus will remain among us for quite a while yet and they are taking into account possible increases or decreases in lockdown status, social distancing and crisis regulations. (Gideon Lichfield, MIT Technology Review, 2020). The pandemic has boosted the digital revolution, meaning that our old methods of contact will never be the same again. 

Back to normalcy? Are we talking about the old world or the new one? Does stability exist in history and can we go back in time to how things used to be? This question will have been on the minds of many UG staff members recently. Back to normal? What is the new normal? Is that the era of physical teaching, or of digital? Most of us are preparing for the digital revolution. After four weeks of being quarantined, many colleagues have stated that they would like to return – to end the feeling of homesickness for Zernike, the Main Administration Building or the Harmonie complex. But it is likely that most of all, they wish to return to stable relations and security. 

Back to what is normal. This reminded me of the quote, 'Back to normalcy'. I still remember this from the history books: it was Republican Harding’s slogan during the American elections of 1920. After the horrors of the First World War, the Spanish flu pandemic, endless strikes and many terrorist bombings, the American people were desperate for normalcy. 

Harding wanted to return things to normal. Not by revisiting the past but by creating a calmer, less chaotic way of life in the present. Such thoughts likely also apply to many UG staff members. They do not wish to return to the past but to move towards a new, stable period in the future. This normalcy will be reached by the meeting of physical and virtual academic teaching and research. We are witnessing it as we speak! 

Prof. Jouke de Vries

President of the Board of the University