Reflections on the First Week
Over my 30-plus years in higher education, I have always looked forward to the start of a new academic year, but generally with a modicum of anxiety. As a faculty member, questions like these were on my mind: What will my students be like? Have I sufficiently prepared? Can I find enough time to stay on plan with my scholarship? As an administrator, these questions were at the fore: What will our retention and graduation rate look like at census? Can I keep my unit on track with our goals in this tight budgetary climate? Will I have time to review my doctoral student’s manuscript drafts?
In this unprecedented moment, new questions presented. Will our students re-enroll? Do the faculty have the tools they need to deliver via their course modality? Is the campus safe?
Last Sunday (August 23) I confess to a fitful sleep wondering what the next day would bring and at what time my email inbox would start to light up. As I drove in that next morning, I squelched negative thinking, leaning on the belief that good people had planned well, students remained at the center of our mission even when not physically present, and perhaps this was a first step on something akin to a pathway to normalcy. I hope this short description of key moments in my week provide a window into the resilience and commitment of the WP community.
Monday: Receive word that 1600 Valley Road is uneven in its classroom readiness. Drive over to join the Deans of Education and Business on a walk through and see the fruits of their leadership, and with great support from Physical Plant Operations, realize full readiness by the next morning. In the afternoon, supportively, but assertively, remind a few students to have their masks over both mouth and nose and they quickly comply. That evening, converse with Sue Tardi on where issues were addressed today and continue our collaboration on a new electronic portfolio submission tool for faculty reappointment reviews.
Tuesday: Hear report that a faculty member is teaching without a mask in a Raubinger classroom. Grab an extra mask to provide to the instructor as a gift and find the faculty member wearing one. Engage with Deans and Human Resources to understand the specifics of the Families First Act so we can optimally work with faculty and staff with school and child care challenges. Learn about the amazing ways campus units, departments, and individual faculty are being responsive to student requests for remote learning and seeing it manifest in a substantive improvement in enrollment since yesterday. Tour the Library that evening and feel the pride of the staff in the work they did to open this week.
Wednesday: Attend Cabinet meeting and remain in awe of Jill Guzman and Charles Lowe who lead our pandemic response effort. Not sure when they sleep. Receive email from a faculty member expressing appreciation for my detailed guidance on topics such as the new student attendance process in Banner and how much they are pleased to be back teaching, despite the moment. Warms my heart. Another day’s improvement in enrollment.
Thursday: Have email exchange with Muri Natrajan, Chair of the Faculty Senate, and find myself inspired by his deep commitment to faculty, particularly with retention, tenure, and promotion, and the sharpening of the document stemming from helpful Senate input in May and over the summer. Rehearse with President Helldobler for the University Address on September 3. Appreciative of his leadership at this challenging time and his commitment to diversity and inclusion that is strongly embedded in his remarks.
Friday: Participate in the weekly enrollment huddle-up with a number of key administrators and staff on campus. Retention continues to trend positive; excited by what is building for census. Zero reported cases of COVID on campus from the Campus Dashboard. Close my day by listening to our amazing music students sing the first installment of Songs for a New World.
Much remains ahead for us to navigate. But I am reminded of the often quoted admonition to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I wish everyone the very best as they navigate uncertainty with the principles of empathic listening and reflective action.