Today's Update: Thursday, July 23

July 23, 2020

Dear Student Life Team, One of our most useful decision-making tools in higher education is a little less useful right now. Usually in student affairs, when confronted with a major decision, or even a minor one, we would check in with our colleagues at other institutions and see how they approached the same issue. Their experiences, both good and bad, help us formulate our plans. With COVID-19, benchmarking is much more challenging because we are all dealing with the same issue and the same questions at the same time. 

I know we’ve heard “these unprecedented times” too often, but the reality is that none of us have ever dealt with anything quite like this virus. In higher education, as in virtually every other field, no one can point to past experiences that we can all learn from. Even historic outbreaks like the influenza pandemic in 1918 (the Lantern did a story about it not long ago: aren’t fully instructive because today’s environment is so much different. Instead, we are learning as we go. No one can answer, “How did that work out for you?” because the answer is, “We’ll find out.”  

In some ways that’s terrifying. Boldly going where no one has gone before may be fine for outer space travelers, but most of us like a little firmer foundation before stepping into the unknown. On the other hand, the prospects of creating a trail in uncharted wilderness can be quite exciting. I suppose which approach I embrace depends on my mood any given day. 

Comparing notes with colleagues at other institutions is still very helpful. It’s especially worthwhile to learn the strategies other schools are using, and how they arrived at the decisions they are making. The thoughts and perspectives of others are always valuable. I know my conversations have given me more things to consider. It’s just that the questions are different from the ones we usually ask. Now it’s “What are you planning and why?” instead of “What worked and what didn’t?”  

It will all work out, and there are plenty of other topics to benchmark with other schools. It’s just another aspect of how strange these times really are. 

Stay Scarlet and Great.