We continue to see stories about coronavirus in the news, and we become anxious.
We continue to hear about people we know contracting the virus, and we become fearful.
We continue to wonder what might happen to us once the fall term begins, and we become uncertain.
We need to address what’s behind this cycle of paralysis.
Neither I nor the proverbial man on the moon can tell you with absolute confidence that you won’t catch coronavirus. However, your college or university campus isn’t the only place you might get it. In the same vein, no one can promise you tomorrow; all of us know at least one family that has suffered a devastating loss of a husband, wife or child who was with us one day but gone the next. If we live in fear of what might happen, then we’ll never stray far from our cocoons.
As I read story after story (or social media post after social media post) about faculty fears for the fall, the “I’m afraid for my health” theme comes through loudly and clearly. And let me be perfectly honest: as a husband and father who knows there are underlying health conditions in two of the four people who live under the Moretti roof, I get it. The skyrocketing coronavirus figures we see right now in some states can easily diminish the already flimsy confidence about the fall semester. Many of us have already made up or minds the fall be a replay of the spring; others have already concluded we must deliver online instruction only until a vaccine is proven successful.
But there’s another theme I hear as faculty discuss the fall, and it’s much more corrosive than fright: trust. Or more specifically, the absence of trust.
Too many faculty across the country do NOT trust the men and women running their college or university. These faculty remain convinced their campus leaders aren’t putting people first. Instead, many faculty are advancing a narrative — and generating plenty of support as they do — that administrators are putting money ahead of health or common sense.
With the country divided as it is, it’s easy to understand why the “absence of trust” theme can flourish. Our trust in institutions such as the media, religion and, yes, higher education, to name just three, continues to wane in the you’re-either-with-me-or-against-me barrage of messages we receive each day.
There’s another idea that must be brought into the conversation about the faculty and their mindset for the fall: Too many states’ governors have fallen prey to the “coronavirus isn’t all that bad” or the “well, if you catch it, it’s your fault” line of thinking. They sought a return to normalcy well before they should have, and that aforementioned spike in coronavirus numbers is a testament to failed leadership. At the risk of making this post a political one, I suggest some Republican governors have badly mismanagement the epidemic and the response to it.
Answer the following question seriously: Do you think the top administrators on your campus would sacrifice your health for the sake of the institution’s health?
If you’re answer is “yes,” then consider what that means. And you also need to consider why you continue to work there. You also need to examine what message the governor in your state is sending college and university leaders.
If you’re answer is “no,” then you must push back on the narrative that says “administrators simply want the campus filled with students because that means lots of money.”
A colleague told me recently that administrators at my institution are typically working 9-10 hours a day gathering and interpreting the information they’re receiving from local, state and national officials about the pandemic, and the university’s plans for the fall. The ultimate goal is keeping Robert Morris University faculty, staff and students safe.
That’s a narrative that must be shared.
At the end of the day, we want to feel safe, and we want to believe we’re being placed in situations where we can succeed as educators. Institutional and political leaders who use data and best practices to guide decision making, and affirm a commitment to health and safety, are our allies in that process.