What's Up in The Academy?
Office Hours wth Dr. De Veau
The Raging Return

The Raging Return

Better to Be Prepared

In a July 14 edition of Forbes.com, Brandon Busteed, an executive at Kaplan penned a piece entitled “8 Reasons this Coming Year Could be the Hardest Yet for Higher Ed”.  Busteed holds nothing back and puts out truths that will make HigherEd pros uncomfortable, especially as they are trying to put the chaos of the pandemic behind them, and move to a year where the work can be more predictable and steady.  I have had multiple conversations with HigherEd professionals and executive leaders, and each of the discussions boils down to some similar feelings: the last year was hard, we need to be acknowledged for the difficult work, and we need to find our footing again. 

Sure. There is a lot there to unpack. Agreed, the pandemic was hard, and remains hard (it isn’t over), but the pandemic isn’t the only aspect of the last 18 months that has been difficult. A racial reckoning, politicization of nearly every aspect of our existence, and financial rollercoasters only added to the health crisis. Campuses are reflective of the greater communities and societies around them. We do not exist in a bubble, and we cannot lead effectively on our campuses without that in mind. 

Busteed’s warning signs all intersect with leadership. Being an effective leader during the next 18 months will come down to a few common traits: spirit of compassion, thorough and nimble planning, and consistently conducted communication

Your Call to Action

Each of Busteed’s “8 Reasons” can be managed with one or a combination of these traits, and today is your time to begin to sharpen your skills in order to effectively manage your own leadership in what will continue to be challenging times. 

Have a Spirit of Compassion. Set your expectations of your community and emulate these expectations. Create a spirit of compassion that is woven throughout any decision making, policy development and program implementation that impacts people. Workplace policies for employees, COVID vaccination, testing and tracing protocols, remote learning practices - are each examples of matters that when seen through a lens of spirit of compassion, tell your community that they, in fact, are seen, and that campus leadership is working to make informed decisions based on reality, not presumptions. Community members simply don’t want to feel like decisions are lazy, arbitrary or uninformed by the last 18 months (or longer). Leadership should be clear that compassion is fueling decisions, and with that, the expectation is that each member of the community is acting with compassion. When modeling your spirit of compassion, bring it back to your institution’s mission, speak to the higher values of the community, and that our campuses are complex places, not a fast food restaurant, an airline or a cable company. We should be mindful of the challenges we have all endured, and act with grace, while expecting excellence. We can do both - extension of grace doesn’t mean giving people a pass for incompetence. Rather, leadership should be sure that there are mechanisms in place so that continuous improvement can happen - as such, institutions must have an improvement plan in place, which takes us to our second trait, thorough and nimble planning.  

Thorough and Nimble Planning.  Setting a tone of compassion is one thing, making things work better is another. You see, if people hear, “We need to give grace,” but they seeoffices and practices that aren’t up to the challenge of excellent service, they will lose patience with the compassion, flip the narrative to the campus being unprepared for a state of full operation and are hiding behind a mask of compassion rather than competence. I can hear it already, “You’ve had all this time and you haven’t figured it out?” Leaders should lean in and make every effort to prevent this potential from becoming a reality. Make sure your planning for the reopening is not only thorough, but also responsive. Being nimble will allow for campus leadership to take action and address where the impact of staffing patterns, incorporation of new technologies, and even untested improvements need tweaking. Departmental leaders should be using this time to identify where their team can live the motto ‘work smarter not harder’, but it will only work in practice if it is intuitive from the user perspective. Use stakeholder outreach to test the processes prior to the opening of the academic year, and be sure to consider scale. Campuses don’t gradually increase in traffic, they go from 0 to 70 MPH in the snap of a finger, and processes must be responsive to the change in traffic, speed and road hazards. As such, this is the time to make a plan for effective response to systemic challenges and hiccups - and the plan must include communication. 

Consistently Conducted Communication.  During the pandemic we have all experienced examples of where communication has hampered or heightened organizational and leadership effectiveness. We have tried everything from standard emails, to portals, to TikTok videos. Take time to consider where communication has worked, and where it hasn’t. Get beyond the method, but evaluate the consistency of communication in timeliness, word choice and messenger(s). Who got the best ‘open rates’ when sending emails? What terms and information got engagement? Was there a day of the week or time of the day that got the most response when you sent a call to action? If you don’t have the answers, it’s not too late, work with your communications team, or self-appointed experts, and do some research into the data. If the data doesn’t exist, consider your campus climate, who is considered the arbiter of news and information, and what is the ebb and flow of your class schedule?  For example, if your VP for Student Affairs has the most clout with students, while the VP for Administration gets the most clicks with staff and the Provost with the faculty, that’s important to know.  Is there room for a campus news source that is from a general account (campus news, for example) which can provide daily updates using not only text, but also video, links to social media and feature campus personalities who are your ‘influencers’?  Considering when the news hits inboxes, phones and push notifications should be intentionally timed for your campus rhythms - if you are a commuter campus, timing the communication to the arrival of the most students on campus, makes good sense, while residential campuses daily communication and emails that hit at 8am and ready for the rise and shine and workplace arrival or after the lunch ‘break’ may be better suited. And no-one … I mean no-one wants a Friday afternoon news dump, unless you are trying to bury important information, which is not advised. If news is going to be difficult to take, use crisis management informed communication, don’t hide from the news, be respectful of your audience, and be solutions driven in your messaging.

Being prepared is essential in good leadership, but preparedness needs to be informed by reality.Dragging out the dinosaur’ … my term for just doing the same old same old is never enough, but this fall, it is truly not enough. Make real progress toward showing your community that the new academic year can be one that is both informed and improved by the experiences of recent memory in concert with your lifetime of professional insight and growth. Make this the dawn of your own leadership rebrand, there will be no better time for it for your campus and for yourself. 


All subscribers (paid or free) to “What’s Up in the Academy?” have received the last two editions of the newsletter. I hope you see the value that paid subscribers experience each week. Check your inboxes this Thursday, July 22 for vacation news and information on new publishing dates for “What’s Up in the Academy?” 

THIS WEEK ON “OFFICE HOURS WITH DR. DE VEAU”:  Vaccination rates have stalled in the US. With 18-29 year olds being the least likely to be fully vaccinated. Can College & University health administrators be a source for boosting this age category’s vaccination rate? This week on "Office Hours with Dr. DeVeau", college health expert, Beth Grampetro returns to share what she has learned from decades of experience in campus public health and risk reduction - related to drugs, alcohol and safer sex practices and provides insight how that can be applied to COVID vaccine messaging. Wednesdays at 12:00noon - exclusively on the Fireside social audio platform.

Connect with Dr. Laura De Veau

What's Up in The Academy?
Office Hours wth Dr. De Veau
Storytelling is the centerpiece of this weekly show. Recorded live through the Fireside App, Dr. De Veau gives listeners the scoop on current Higher Ed news, and hosts guests who can speak to how campus life brought their real life purpose.