As the fall semester approaches, anxiety for faculty, students and parents is on the rise. Many of the institutions that were planning a face to face or hybrid approach for classes are having to pivot as coronavirus cases continue to increase across the country. I have many friends who are faculty and seeing the concerns they have been raising in discussion forums led me to host a webinar this past week to give them a perspective from a former provost.
Many faculty members make assumptions about the finances of their institution, often not understanding the constraints on using endowments to cover deficits. I spent some time discussing the various ways that endowments can be used. However, one of the more important points I made is that administrators are people, too. Most of us were faculty, and we aren’t intentionally trying to put them in danger or make their lives difficult.
This is one of the most difficult times I have ever seen for campus administrators. There are many forces pushing leaders in different directions, whether it’s parents who are pushing for face to face teaching or distance learning, as well as politicians, community members or their own governing boards calling for a particular approach. There are no easy decisions, and every choice made has ramifications for the bottom line. Faculty need to speak up and ask for transparency, but they also need to understand the internal and external forces that are shaping decisions.
Our monthly webinar for July featured University of Toronto psychologist Steve Joordens who joined me for a discussion about Leading with Empathy. We talked about the various tools that are available for dealing with anxiety, and how campus leaders can use empathy to find better ways of communicating with faculty and others. I emphasized the importance of leaders allowing themselves to be vulnerable, admitting mistakes and their own anxieties. Being vulnerable does not mean you are weak, in fact it shows faculty that you are capable of understanding how they are feeling, and that you care.
The next few months will be difficult for higher education. We will be here with the resources you need to get through these challenging times.