In Times Like These, Your Leadership Matters More

Higher Ed March 20 / March 30, 2020

 – Thomas Mennella –

The relationship between faculty and administration is a complex one. You, administrators, are the stewards of the institution. And we – the faculty – are the keepers of the curriculum. At times, this puts us in lockstep seeing eye to eye. And at times, this makes us adversarial. For many among the faculty (and, yes, sometimes myself included – I confess sheepishly), complaining about the administration’s most recent initiative or mandate is even the tune of the day. But not today.

We are in strange, unsettling times. In the US, China and Italy we are battling a widespread epidemic. Other countries in Asia, Europe and elsewhere are trying to keep such spreads at bay. And all the while, educational institutions, both K-12 and higher education, are left wondering what to do. Close now or wait?

As a faculty member, I sleep soundly each night knowing that tomorrow will either be a normal day, or I’ll awaken to new marching orders from my superiors, which I will then follow. I am an educational soldier. Point me in a direction, tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.

I can only imagine the sleepless nights that my President, Provost and – yes, even Deans – must be having as COVID-19 throws all normalcy into the air with no timetable for when it will fall again in one piece. Close now or wait?

Closing now (or more commonly, moving all instruction online) disrupts student learning, leans heavily on faculty, and puts educators in uncomfortable and unfamiliar terrain. It also brings many faculty members and students nearer to the precipice of failure that they work so hard to avoid. Waiting brings the inherent risk of students, staff or faculty being exposed to this dangerous and wickedly contagious virus. No administrator wants the guilt and responsibility of a severely ill, or worse, community member on their conscience. Close now or wait may well be the most difficult decision today’s educational administrators make in their entire careers. And the stakes and responsibilities couldn’t be higher.

So today, I am using my soapbox here at FLR to offer a very loud “Thank you!” to all of the administrators who are reading this. Thank you for making the hard decisions. Thank you for shouldering the hard responsibilities. Thank you for being the lieutenants, majors, and generals that we follow. And thank you for the restful nights we’ve had as you have tossed and turned with the weighty decisions pending in your cue. We don’t say it often enough, but we – the faculty – appreciate your leadership. Be well. Stay healthy. And thank you.

Thomas Mennella
Dr. Thomas Mennella Mennella
I have been an instructor in higher education for over ten years. Starting as a lecturer at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and then moving on to an Assistant Professorship at Delaware State University (DSU), a small public university, I experimented with Problem-Based Learning (PBL) and was an early-adopter of the iClicker student response system. Now an Associate Professor at Bay Path University, a private liberal arts institution in western Massachusetts, I primarily teach Genetics, Cell and Molecular Biology. I am Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.

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