Several years ago I wrote a paean to fall on campus. I waxed poetic about the energy of the fall semester and the start of our new year. I wrote about empty campuses suddenly filled with students, parking lots that had been deserted now filled with cars, and sidewalks bustling with students – some new and lost and some glad to be ‘home’. I was writing about an annual, communal experience that faculty, staff, and students have shared for decades. It’s hot this August, and some campuses are starting to be repopulated, but beyond that much is different this new year.
Many years ago now, I was a new Vice President whose predecessor had held the position for twenty-years. About a year and a half into my tenure in that position, one of the staff who had worked there for many years commented that it had been easier previously. He explained that things were routine and when it came time for an event, say Family Weekend, all he had to do was pull out the Family Weekend File, change a few dates and do what they had been doing for several years. Now, I was there asking questions, making suggestions, generally messing with the routine. And it was harder. More interesting perhaps but now it took thought and energy to do things that had become simple and routine.
I thought about that conversation this week. And about all the changes that are happening on campus. Some changes are minor details and some are profound, but I suspect everyone finds themselves in the position of my colleague. It no longer works to pull out the folder and do what you did last year. Our current situation is asking us different questions, pushing us to try new things, and generally messing with our routines. It is definitely more difficult, but the challenge for all of us is to find new ways to imagine our work. It’s time to encourage ourselves and each other to be more creative, to find new ways to meet our students where they are when they can’t come to campus or to meet with us face to face, and to support each other when we can’t offer a hug.
UNC-Chapel Hill announced yesterday that they are shifting to remote. As I worked on this essay Tuesday afternoon, Michigan State and Notre Dame announced that they are suspending in-person classes. Clearly, the ‘pulling out the old folder’ isn’t going to work this semester. This past spring, most organizations made immediate, short-term changes to move current programs and services online. The current situation requires us to do more than that this fall.
What routine or rut are you stuck in? What creative idea will you devise to climb out of it – or them? Our organizations and the people we serve need us to bring our best creative energy to our work this fall. Best of luck to you as you and your colleagues work to navigate these challenging times. And I’m available if there’s some way I can help.