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Message from the Dean: COVID-19 pandemic

Important message from the Dean to all students at LMU Faculty of Economics during the COVID-19 pandemic

29.06.2020

Dear Students,

First, I sincerely hope that you, and your friends and family are well and have managed to get unscathed through these difficult months. This does not only concern physical well-being.

I am aware that the tense situation, confinement, and sometimes also material concerns may have led to considerable stress and anxiety. Prioritize your psychological safety and take good care of yourself. In case you feel overwhelmed by the situation, do not hesitate to reach out. The Studentenwerk, for example, offers counselling services.

This is also a time where we do have to watch out for one another. Be mindful and offer help and support to your friends and fellow students. Look out for signs of stress and foster psychological safety. In particular international students may have a harder time to get up-to date information on the situation on the ground and may be particularly affected by travel restrictions. Be aware of this.

Let’s make sure we do take good care of each other also in these dire times. Now, after the last few stressful months, the opening up of cafes and restaurants, along with the better weather and the possibility to meet outside has, at least for me, lifted up the spirits. Also, the semester is in full swing now, and though it is starkly different from what we are used to - and what we would want it to be - it appears to us that despite some minor quirks, the virtual teaching worked out pretty well.

I hope you all appreciate the great efforts that have gone into getting this off the ground. Despite a major shock that hit the system largely unprepared, we managed - with great enthusiasm and a remarkable degree of pragmatism - to offer all planned courses so every student has the possibility to progress in his studies as planned. Still, we are aware, that many of you face extraordinary challenges and be assured, we strive for finding fair and sustainable solutions to do justice to these extraordinary circumstances.

Now let me give you a short report on the state of affairs so you know what to expect over the coming months.

Regarding On-site events

LMU’s buildings are generally closed to the public - which includes everyone but employees; i.e., also students generally cannot enter the buildings. When you roam the campus, adhere to the well-known safety regulations which include keeping your distance, adhere to sneezing and coughing etiquette, wash your hands regularly, and augment this by wearing masks.

Before I expand more on the regulations in place, let me briefly provide some background and motivation for why the university and departmental leadership has taken the decisions to be detailed below.

While I am not a certified expert on the microbiology and epidemiology of the pandemic, I still followed closely the debates and am involved in many discussions on the topic. Hence, let me provide you with a short summary of what guides my thinking on the issue.

Apparently, the virus spreads primarily via the air in droplets and aerosoles. The good news is that these are quickly dispersed if you are out in the open. The bad news, however, is that in closed, badly ventilated quarters, even keeping the suggested distance does not protect you perfectly. Now, most of our seminar rooms and lecture theaters are exactly that - badly ventilated closed quarters.

Also, note, that the community masks that most of us wear, are not designed to protect the person wearing it, but - by stopping the dispersion of droplets and aerosoles - other people. Hence, these masks are not an effective protection unless all of us are wearing them. And also then we should be aware that the effectivity of a mask deteriorates the longer we are wearing it due to the mask getting wet by our breath.

Finally, if we moved towards on-site formats, we have to ensure safety not only in the lecture rooms and theaters, but also in the hallways and bathrooms, and not only during lectures but also when entering the building and when transitioning from one location to the next. In the buildings on LMU’s main campus, this is all but impossible to do.

As an example, if you sit in an office or a lecture room or a library work space, even if you are 2m apart but there is no ventilation, the distance alone will not protect you from being exposed to others’ aerosoles.

Hence, if you meet others, ensure that you do this in well ventilated settings. If you meet indoors, aim for keeping windows open wherever possible.

Let me turn to Teaching

If you keep this in mind, you will understand why on-site teaching, Präsenzlehre, is hard to implement for the foreseeable future, certainly in this summer term.

We deeply regret this! The close interaction among scholars and students is the essence of university life, for most of us it ranks among the most important reasons to pursue these careers.

Hence, we are already very much looking forward to the day when we can return to regular on-site interactions. Even if we can re-instate on-site teaching for smaller groups at some point in the hopefully not too distant future, we will have to still keep in place opportunities for off-site participation in courses. This has two reasons: First, there’s a sizable number of students (and instructors) that belong to the at-risk population. Second, students (and some instructors) may - due to travel restrictions - be confined to their home countries.

While there’s a clear cost of foregoing on-site teaching, for many purposes the various virtual formats are a reasonable substitute for a limited period of time. Hence, our decision is driven by our sense of responsibility and the primacy of avoiding an uncontrolled spread of the virus.

Winter term

On a somewhat sobering note, in the light of above arguments, it is far from clear that we can return to business as usual starting in the winter term. Maybe on-site teaching will be possible for smaller groups, but - remember my above arguments - also this is not certain.

Teaching Evaluation

The more it is important that we carefully evaluate what worked and what didn’t in this semester. There will be an online-teaching-evaluation and in particularly this time it will be important to provide constructive feedback in order to allow each instructor to improve his courses and performances for the winter. All students will receive the links & and an individual TAN by email. Still, the evaluation is fully anonymous. Please make sure to fill out the evaluations, especially in this term full of novel teaching formats your feedback is invaluable to us.

Other Events

Not only on-site classes and lectures are suspended, also all sorts of conferences, workshops, and celebrations. Again, we regret this. Very much so. Whenever it is possible, we will try to find formats that allow us to preserve the purpose of the original event - though, often this will not be possible

There’s two other, very important elements of student life that are affected. Exams and libraries.

Exams

Regarding exams, you already have received from the ISC the information concerning the current status of planning. Again, following above logic, on-site exams are infeasible.

This point is strengthened by our imperative to avoid uncertainty regarding your exams as much as possible. Just imagine a situation where we would plan for on-site exams and just a few days before the assigned exam date the epidemiological development forces us to lock down operations again. Hence, we are convinced that the dominant strategy is to not plan for on-site exams.

Be well aware, having on-site exams would be the much easier way for us, too. While we know how these work, we have to invest heftily in organizing, planning, and designing these new kinds of exams.

In addition to the Covid-related safety regulations, there’s additional legal requirements we have to bear in mind regarding the design of off-site exams. These concern requirements regarding the possibility to identify students, the requirement that there must be no technological hurdles, data protection standards, equal conditions for each student, etc. These are essentially prohibitively high hurdles for online exams in the narrow sense of the word.

This leaves essentially three options: term papers, oral exams, which can also take place in a virtual format, and open-book take-home exams. Which option is chosen depends on the format of and content covered in the class. For example, it will be hard to have a term paper in a math class or oral exams in 400 person lectures. Your lecturers will inform you in time regarding the format of the exam.

The ISC offers detailed information regarding the rules and regulations, explanatory videos, and an exemplary exam to highlight the technical procedures on its website .

If there are problems or further questions, get in touch with the ISC. I also encourage you to coordinate amongst yourselves and bundle questions within the class, as it will be much easier and faster to answer one email than many.

Libraries

Last but not least, for those having to write papers or wanting to study in libraries, first, note that all libraries are formally part of the University Library. Again, following above logic, workspaces in libraries are closed until further notice. While you can borrow books from the library now - which is a considerable organizational challenge in itself - it will not be able for you to use the working facilities or the computer labs there. Although we are in the fortunate situation that in economics, much of our scientific material is published in journals, which are largely available online, for example via JSTOR, we, and LMU, are aware that this is still a severe challenge for many who lack reliable internet connections or quiet working spaces. Hence the situation is closely monitored and possible solutions are explored. However, this is not an easy task. Check the UB’s website for updates.

Summing Up

So far, we have fared well, I believe during this challenging time. I hope, by continued efforts paired with good will and a mutual understanding of shared interests, we will continue to do well.

And I sincerely look forward to the day when the state of affairs allows us to revive the aspects of university live that we all appreciate so much - to generate and share knowledge via personal exchange and constructive discussion. We, the faculty, and I very much look forward to seeing all of you! Until then, stay safe.

Florian Englmaier, Dean of the Faculty of Economics