Koç University News & Announcements Bulletin

March 2020


Dear Members of the Koç University Community,

What a difference from when I wrote last year in March to now, to the current days of the coronavirus... March had always been quite a busy month for all of our community, filling my calendar with faculty and student events where I got to listen to wonderful speakers share their knowledge, enjoyed various organizations and activities around our campus. Alas, this year we must start with a very different reflection on the past 30 days. When we look back at this time next year and read this Newsletter, I want to make sure that our experience of now, this inconceivable and incredible period, has been recorded in time, so that we can always go back and take inspiration.

Right at the beginning of this month, we were certain that we would be hit by the coronavirus that had completely overtaken China, Europe and the US. Thus, we started to prepare as much and fast as we can by immediately creating an emergency operations task force and deciding on action items as could be seen by our numerous guidance, that has now become a regular in your mailboxes. I have so far shared with you 8 different announcements with many updates on our guidance in which we worked hard to include as much detail as possible, taking into consideration questions that might come from our community while ensuring the health, well-being and safety of our students, faculty, staff and all of our community. We had to vacate our campus, end all activities and classes, switch to online/remote teaching & learning and start working from home while doing all this in a matter of few weeks.

The resilience of our country and our people, ability to cope with crises, strong will to unite in the face of adversity have been tested over and over again since our war of independence and the founding of our Republic and I do commend our authorities for their guidance and resolve. I can definitely see the same sentiment across our community where we have been working round the clock since we have been faced with this debacle.

I am so pleased to see that we were the leading academic institution in the country with our early communications and preventive measures. Many people from our community deserve praise and gratitude in formulating and implementing our response to the COVID-19 virus. First and foremost, I would like to thank our General Secretariat consisting of the Housing Directorate, Security and Risk Management Office, Information Technology Directorate and other units, led competently by our General Secretary Cihan Özsönmez, for their tireless and continued efforts in managing this highly critical situation. I would also like to thank our Communications Directorate for their speedy response to the ever changing nature of events, our Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs for quickly adapting to the requirements of online/remote teaching and learning, especially KOLT for their guidance to both students and faculty, our Deans and Directors who have led their respective Colleges, Schools and Institutes with strong resolve under quite a stressful time for students and faculty and finally the members of the entire coronavirus emergency operations task force who have been available and working 24/7. Special thanks are also due to Prof. Önder Ergönül, the Head of our Department of Infectious Diseases, for his sound advice and guidance to the government and to us all throughout this ordeal. His presence on our taskforce and his continued overseeing counsel on our response to COVID-19 have been invaluable and excellent.

Uncertainty and dealing with uncertainty have for now become the norm, the 'new normal'. It is nerve wracking, however, amidst all the advances in technology and science, where we are truly dreaming of space travel, to still be scared of natural disasters like earthquakes, tornadoes, floods or since the beginning of this year, a global health pandemic. This circumstance reminds me of my college days at METU where our country and the whole world was in political turmoil with youth movements in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I do remember days of no classes, not because of a global pandemic but because of student boycotts and protests. During these interruptions often lasting for weeks to months, we would go and hang out with friends, play cards, and then get back to our normal routines when classes resumed. Those days are surely very different than today; first of all, we had no internet or mobile phones. In the world of today, we can now connect via our mobile phones whenever and wherever, and we can thus continue most of what we can do ‘online’. As we do now at our own university, where online/remote learning and teaching have started and is to be continued until the end of the Spring Semester. For myself, as a person who sees university education as a rendezvous, or an appointment if you will, between generations where what we have at our university and others is the ‘appointment’ of Generation X (Born before 1980s) with Generation Z (Born after 1995), this shift to remote/online teaching and learning does bring some unique challenges -- while it might also offer opportunities for us to come up with creative ways to connect. I have urged both our students and faculty to reach out to one another and find ways to best facilitate classes. The same applies to our faculty and staff who are working from home to connect and see how we can elevate our wonderful institution to higher levels.

For the ELEC206-PHYS302 courses I am teaching this Semester, I am using Microsoft Teams system for delivery of my Lectures and for our teaching/learning environment. I have already recorded my Lecture for March 31st, 2020, which the students will watch at their leisure. I shall also hold online/real-time Office Hours to respond to questions and hope to have the students in class join me on Microsoft Teams during my recording of the Lectures, so that we can have questions and discussions in real-time.

As we send this Newsletter, there are uncertainties in our future. But here is what I know for certain. At Koç University we shall continue to cultivate most competent graduates, well-rounded adults who are internationally qualified, who can think creatively, independently and objectively, and who are confident leaders while concurrently conducting research which contributes to scientific development on an international scale and bolsters technological, economic and social development.

In fact, during the past week we have had back to back great news on two new European research grants – the first ERA Chair Grant awarded in Turkey to Koç University Transplant Immunology Research Center of Excellence (TIREX), led by Prof. Ihsan Solaroğlu, with a budget of 2.5 million Euros. Another Outstanding Success is the Horizon 2020 Twinning proposal from the College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH), coordinated by Assoc. Prof. Erdem Yörük, Sociology, titled 'Building the Future: Excelling in Computational and Quantitative Social Sciences in Turkey (Social ComQuant)'. This grant is again another first for us, as our institution is one of the first universities in Turkey in charge of a Twinning project. These news could not have come at a better time, solidifying our place as the top research university in the region while reminding all of us that despite a slowdown in our research activities for these few months, we shall be ready for a full start in the second half of the year. Come Fall 2020, with the start of the new academic year, we would have renewed our passion and will work harder than ever.

These days there is a serene, beautiful quiet to our wonderful campus, with spring also flourishing amidst the cold wind and drizzle. I know that these days too shall pass and I am confident that with the help of all of you, we shall prevail to ensure the continuity of our primary educational and research mission and that we shall in fact emerge out of this difficult period as a stronger institution.

And as stated so powerfully in the Koç Group campaign on COVID-19 'we shall recover' (#iyileşeceğiz)...

On a final note, every year I congratulate our doctors on National Doctor's Day, celebrated on March 14th every year in Turkey. This year, more than ever, we cannot be more thankful to those in this profession who work very hard, so we all stay healthy. I would like to thank our very own health professionals, Medical School Faculty members and specialist doctors serving at the Koç University Hospital for their service under extremely difficult circumstances.

As I conclude my remarks, I urge all of you to take advantage of this time to catch up on unfinished projects, research, read books you always wanted to read but had no time, pick up on different areas of interest and see what others are saying, sharing as social media offers an abundance of that. More importantly, I hope you all spend quality time with your loved ones, even though some might be far away or need to stay away due to their age. Our technology offers such opportunities where we can gather virtually. I do realize how hard this might sound or the kind of discipline this will require from all of you but do see it as an opportunity to catch up with yourself, a time to invest in yourself and reflect. When we all go back to our regular routines, this time of heightened awareness and reflection shall definitely be helpful.

My final message to our community is a simple but a very heartfelt thank you -- I thank each and every one of you for your understanding and patience as we are still facing a lot of unknowns and as we cannot foresee what the next few weeks may have in store for us. Please stay home and be healthy, take care of yourselves and your families. . .I cannot wait to see things go back to normal when I hope to see you all on our beautiful campus . . .

My best wishes and regards to you all,

Umran Inan