Why Professional Development is a Strategic Priority During a Time of Rapid Change
May 22, 2020
During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the academic workforce is distributed and opportunities for collaborative learning, networking, and sharing of ideas and successes are more limited, leadership support for professional development in higher education is more critical than ever. To come out of the crisis thriving, colleges and universities have to invest in their people.
Research Report | Academic Impressions, May 2020
Historically, institutions have often frozen or cut professional development (PD) budgets during periods of financial distress, limiting their capacity for learning and identifying solutions at the very moment that capacity is most needed. Today, more than ever, institutions need to take the opposite course. Investing in PD—in your people, in their capacity and their growth—also sends a powerful leadership message. This message provides stability amid uncertainty; offers a way to move forward, keep connected and engaged, and take action; and encourages a growth mindset, even and especially in the midst of crisis.
The institutions that will emerge from a time of crisis in a position to thrive will be those whose leaders and staff are empowered and equipped to think opportunistically, creatively, and with a growth mindset. During such a time, existing mindsets and approaches to the work need to be challenged. Creative solutions need to be sought, identified, piloted, and shared. Systemic, enterprise-wide support for professional development—in a structured, intentional way—cultivates a growth mindset in the academic workforce, communicates a powerful and necessary message to the institution’s employees about their leadership’s confidence and investment in their people, and strengthens the institution’s capacity and resilience in the face of change.
Academic Impressions recently surveyed 2,452 higher-ed professionals from 642 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. and Canada. The findings from this third iteration of the survey confirm and augment previous findings (from surveys conducted at the end of calendar years 2015 and 2017) and support a strong case for leaders at institutions of higher education to provide department-wide or enterprise-wide support for the professional development of their faculty and staff.
The findings also suggest that professional development is important to employees and their institutions for reasons other than what traditionally has been believed. The survey data allow for the deconstruction of several longstanding myths about professional development in higher ed. We encourage you to review the findings and share the report with the leadership at your institution.
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About Academic Impressions
At Academic Impressions, we are focused solely on providing leadership, personal development, and skills-based training opportunities to faculty and staff in higher ed. We help individuals, teams, and institutions across the US and Canada build upon their knowledge and expertise to reach new levels and find practical solutions to the challenges they are facing. Learn more about our organization here. You can also sign up to get future reports like this one and daily updates on how higher education is adapting, by subscribing to our complimentary Daily Pulse.
Why Professional Development is a Strategic Priority During a Time of Rapid Change
Research Report | Academic Impressions, May 2020
Contributors : Amit Mrig, Academic Impressions; Beth Rotach, Academic Impressions; Daniel Fusch, Academic Impressions; Kevin Kientz, Academic Impressions; Paul Cook, University of Colorado Denver - Anschutz Medical Campus.
Historically, institutions have often frozen or cut professional development (PD) budgets during periods of financial distress, limiting their capacity for learning and identifying solutions at the very moment that capacity is most needed. Today, more than ever, institutions need to take the opposite course. Investing in PD—in your people, in their capacity and their growth—also sends a powerful leadership message. This message provides stability amid uncertainty; offers a way to move forward, keep connected and engaged, and take action; and encourages a growth mindset, even and especially in the midst of crisis. As Melissa Morriss-Olson, provost at Bay Path University, puts it:
“We’re leading in tough times. I think that boards and their presidents often clench when things get tough, and the innate instinct is to cut back and go into the bunker until things get better. That is exactly the wrong response. It is virtually impossible to cut one’s way to greatness. Leaders need to fight this natural instinct and find the courage to pull up and go to the balcony in the midst of daily pressures that are extraordinary and unprecedented. This is a time to be reaching outward rather than inward – gathering new ideas, connecting people who can surface and implement creative solutions, and investing in the professional development and leadership capacity of our people.”
As the sector reels from unprecedented challenges, leaders can respond with either a “scarcity mindset”—reacting passively to factors outside their control, such as state budgets, demographic shifts, or a pandemic—or a “growth mindset,” focusing on those factors within their control, leveraging the full skills and capacity of their academic workforce to find new solutions, networking and engaging actively across the sector to identify and share strategies for confronting both persistent and new challenges, and investing and reinvesting in their people. In a sector dedicated to producing learning, the academic workforce itself is the institution’s key strategic resource, and adopting a systemic and intentional approach to developing the capacity of that workforce is a strategy for strengthening the institution’s capacity and resilience both during and after a crisis.
It is with this philosophy and optimism that Academic Impressions wishes to share key findings from its third continentwide survey of attitudes and implementation of professional development in higher education.
In December 2019, Academic Impressions surveyed 2,452 higher-ed professionals from 642 post-secondary institutions in the U.S. and Canada. About half of the total respondents (1140 or 46%) said that they control or influence spending on PD for faculty or staff other than just themselves. More than half of respondents (1303 or 53%) were full-time administrative staff; 18% (451) were non-academic managers or directors; 13% (320) were faculty (mostly full-time); 9% (215) were mid-level academic administrators such as chairs or directors; and 6% (156) were deans, vice presidents, cabinet members, or worked in the President’s office. As shown in the following demographics table, respondents were diverse in terms of age, race/ethnicity, and gender:
The findings from this third iteration of the survey confirm and augment previous findings (from surveys conducted at the end of calendar years 2015 and 2017) and support a strong case for leaders at institutions of higher education to provide department-wide or enterprise-wide support for the professional development of their faculty and staff. The findings also suggest that professional development is important to employees and their institutions for reasons other than what traditionally has been believed. The survey data allow for the deconstruction of several longstanding myths about professional development in higher ed.
This report will share eight key findings that, collectively, can have a significant impact on how higher-ed leaders understand and utilize professional development in building the capacity both of their faculty and staff and of their departments as a whole. These findings are as follows:
- Faculty and staff want PD to improve their effectiveness—not simply to secure a promotion or pay raise.
- For many faculty and staff, dialogue with their department heads about PD is more important than funding for PD.
- Dialogue about PD between department heads and employees contributes directly to job satisfaction and employee retention.
- Faculty and staff perceive many barriers to asking for PD.
- Proactive outreach from leadership is especially critical to support PD for women and under-represented groups.
- Faculty and staff commonly believe that there are “no funds for PD,” even when funds are available.
- Practices such as individualized PD plans and integration of PD into the performance review cycle make a significant difference in job satisfaction.
- Even incremental progress toward systemic support for PD makes a measurable, significant difference.
Finding #1. Faculty and staff want PD to improve their effectiveness— not simply to secure a promotion or pay raise.
Higher-ed leaders frequently subscribe to a number of myths about what motivates their faculty and staff to seek PD. For example, 37% of department heads report that they refrain from conversations with their faculty and staff about PD because their department lacks opportunities for upward mobility, and 14% express concern that their vocal support of PD could lead to the expectation of a promotion or a raise.
But when faculty and staff are asked what motivates them to ask for PD, career advancement is not their primary objective:
While career advancement is certainly one motivator, it matters less than the desire to learn and improve the effectiveness of their work. The majority of the academic workforce does not perceive PD as primarily an avenue to career advancement but as a means to improve their work and advance their unit. Even in units that lack strong vertical career ladders, faculty and staff report that PD remains of critical importance to them. Notably:
- 84% of higher-ed employees say that access to new learning and professional development opportunities is either “very” or “extremely” important to them.
- 73% of faculty and staff say that more access to professional development and learning opportunities would increase their likelihood of staying at the institution. 43% say that increased access to PD would be “very” or “extremely” likely to increase that likelihood of retention.
Even if resources are tight and even if there isn’t an immediately apparent vertical mobility within the organization, higher-ed employees still see dialogue with leadership about their PD as crucial and beneficial to their work and to their personal and professional growth.
Finding #2. For many faculty and staff, dialogue with their department heads about PD is more important than funding for PD.
Not only do employees desire PD strongly, but they desire dialogue with their department heads about their professional development. In fact, this dialogue is even more important to them than the degree of access to PD funds. Consider how they responded to a choice between these two scenarios:
More than half (51%) preferred the first scenario; they would rather have the regular conversations with their supervisor or department head, even if PD funds are limited.
Yet only one-third (33%) of faculty and staff confirmed that their supervisor frequently or always engages them in conversation about their professional development. Clearly there is a significant gap between the support that faculty and staff desire in order to improve the effectiveness of their work and the support that is being provided. Importantly, the key to that support is not funding for PD but ongoing dialogue with leadership about professional development opportunities, plans, and objectives.
Finding #3. Dialogue about PD between department heads and faculty and staff contributes directly to job satisfaction and employee retention.
Reviewing findings that have proven consistent across three iterations of the survey, Academic Impressions was able to construct a structural model with six subscales to explore the survey data more deeply. Using this model, we confirmed that leadership support for PD (comprising three variables: regular dialogue with employees about their PD; provision of ongoing support after pursuing PD; and employees perception of whether their supervisor or department head models their own PD) is not only predictive of job satisfaction; among all the items we researched, it was the most predictive factor. Leadership support for PD is more predictive of job satisfaction than:
- Perceived access to PD.
- Perceived barriers to PD.
- Whether employees perceived alignment between their professional development and departmental objectives.
- Whether employees believed their department had a learning culture that is open to new ideas and supportive of challenging “the way we do things.”
Despite the often-quoted maxim that “culture eats strategy for lunch,” we found that the impact of departmental culture on job satisfaction was more indirect. The employee’s perception of the departmental culture, the degree to which PD and departmental objectives are aligned, and the extent to which there are barriers are PD are all mediated through employees’ perception of the quality and extent of the dialogue they have with their supervisor about PD.
Job satisfaction (comprised of three variables: overall satisfaction with their job; meaningfulness of their work; and perceived opportunities for growth at their institution) was in turn highly predictive of whether employees found themselves likely to seek work at other institutions. 73% of higher-ed employees report that greater leadership support for their PD would make them more likely to stay at the institution. Accordingly:
Leadership support -> Job satisfaction -> Employee retention
To grasp the full impact of leadership support and dialogue around PD, consider three groups of faculty and staff in higher education, occupying a spectrum from little to no leadership support to full support. Each group consists of one-third of higher-ed faculty and staff. We will refer to the groups on the two ends of this spectrum as Group Red and Group Green.
The employees in Group Red say that their department head or supervisor rarely or never engages them in dialogue about PD (29%), that they rarely or never receive ongoing support from their leadership (32%) to follow through on what they’ve learned—such as time to reflect, encouragement to share what they’ve learned, or support in trying new things. And they say that their unit heads or supervisors rarely or never model investment in their own professional development (16%).
Group Green tells the opposite story: their supervisors engage them in regular dialogue about PD (33%), provide ongoing support in implementing what they’ve learned (35%), and frequently or always model investment in their own PD (47%).
- Group Green is three times as likely to report that they are “very” or “extremely” satisfied with their jobs (74% in Group Green, compared to 24% in Group Red).
- Group Green is ten times less likely to report extreme job dissatisfaction (3% in Group Green, compared to 31.5% in Group Red).
- Group Green is roughly three times less likely to report a high likelihood of seeking a job outside their current institution (16% in Group Green, compared to 44% in Group Red).
Across all three metrics—whether supervisors or department heads engage faculty and staff in regular dialogue, whether they provide support for implementing what’s learned, and whether they model investment in their own PD—the numbers tallied consistently, and all three were statistically correlated with each other.
This tells a compelling story that every supervisor and department head in higher education needs to hear. Even when there is limited funding for professional development, dialogue and support for faculty and staff professional development is the lever higher-ed leaders can pull to keep their people engaged, improving their effectiveness, and satisfied with their jobs.
And because the primary motivators for seeking PD are improving one’s work and advancing the work of the unit or department, support for PD is also a key opportunity to leverage the brainpower and learning potential of the academic workforce—that is, to gather the knowledge, strategies, contacts, and practices needed to navigate a stressful “new normal” and ensure that the institution not only survives but thrives in the months and years ahead. During a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in which the academic workforce is distributed and opportunities for collaborative learning, networking, and sharing of ideas and successes are more limited, leadership support for PD is more critical than ever.
Finding #4. Faculty and staff perceive many barriers to asking for PD.
While dialogue between leadership and employees about professional development and growth is predictive of job satisfaction, the data also suggests that supervisors would be ill-advised to simply wait for faculty and staff to approach them to initiate this dialogue. Higher-ed employees perceive many barriers to asking for PD. For example:
- 62% of faculty and staff say they would be reluctant to seek PD because they believe leadership will simply say “no.”
- 86.7% say they would be reluctant to seek PD because they believe resources are too constrained or “tight.”
- 28.6% say they would be reluctant to seek PD because they fear leadership would see them as “inadequate” due to asking for support.
- 62.8% say that clear expectations for PD are not set during their first year on the job.
- 44.8% say they do not know the steps to take to get access to PD.
We also discovered that 52.1% of all higher-ed faculty and staff would assign their departmental leadership a letter grade of C, D, or a failing grade at building faculty and staff capacity and expertise. Only 47.4% say that their leaders regularly model investment in their own PD. Almost half of all faculty and staff say they do not know what steps to take to get PD, and almost two thirds believe their supervisors will just say no; over 1 in 4 think they’ll be judged as inadequate if they ask.
These are not signs of a working environment in which faculty and staff feel safe and empowered to engage their leadership in discussions around their professional development and growth. Therefore, it is critical that leadership model investment in PD, demonstrate that PD is valued and key to the growth of both individual employees and of their units, educate units about what PD is available and how to seek access to it, deconstruct or dispel common myths about the likelihood of approval for PD, and engage faculty and staff proactively in ongoing dialogue about their objectives, plans, and opportunities for professional development and professional growth.
Finding #5. Proactive outreach from leadership is especially critical to support PD for women and under-represented groups.
Understanding the PD gender gap
Among survey respondents, women were even more likely than men to report that PD is highly important to them— but were also less likely than men to report high rates of job satisfaction:
These findings suggest that higher-ed leaders searching for ways to support and empower women in the higher-ed workforce would do well to close the gender gap in support for professional development. Crucially, not only do women report less access to PD, they are more likely than their male colleagues to refrain from asking for PD. 65% of women believe their supervisor will just say no (whereas only 50% of men hold that same belief).
Rather than waiting for women in their department to ask for PD, department leaders need to provide access to professional development proactively and initiate the dialogue about professional development objectives and opportunities. The leader’s role in closing the gender gap is to take action to create the space where employees of all genders can learn and grow professionally—and to communicate by action that this is the kind of learning culture departmental leaders desire and support.
It is also critical that leaders ask their faculty and staff what support they need and make it clear that seeking support and dialogue around PD won’t entail appearing “inadequate.” Leaders need to take steps to address the perceived risk for all employees (but particularly women) of seeking PD. The data reveals a wide gap between the support leaders believe they are providing and the support faculty and staff are actually receiving. To cite just one example, only 23.3% of supervisors think their faculty and staff don’t know the steps to get access to PD, but among faculty and staff, 28.4% of men and 36.5% of women report that they don’t know the steps to take. The findings in this report suggest that department leaders frequently hold unfounded assumptions about the motivations of their faculty and staff in seeking PD, perception of the risk in seeking PD, perception of the support available, and knowledge about the steps to take.
Understanding the PD gap between white employees and employees of color
There is also a gap in the likelihood of seeking out PD, between white employees and their non-white colleagues. The barriers here are distinct from those involved in the gender gap. Employees of color report similar job satisfaction and levels of engagement with their supervisors when compared with their white peers, and are actually slightly less likely to believe that there are no funds available for their PD. However, POC still report feeling discouraged from asking for PD.
For women, one of the most significant barriers to seeking PD was the belief that their supervisors would simply say “no”; for POC, the far more significant barrier was the belief that their supervisors will see them as inadequate if they ask for support. Both groups are less likely than their peers to be aware of the steps to take in seeking PD:
If supervisors are committed to building the capacity of women and employees from under-represented groups, they need to be proactive in dismantling these two myths: the myth that they’ll simply say no when asked for PD, and the myth that asking for support and learning opportunities will be interpreted an indicator of inadequate performance.
Finding #6. Faculty and staff commonly believe that there are “no funds for PD,” even when funds are available.
The even more prevalent myth—among faculty and staff of all demographics—is that there simply are no funds available for their PD. A staggering 86.7% of faculty and staff report that resource constraints discourage them from asking for PD. Yet, only 9% of supervisors and department heads confirmed that access to PD funds was a barrier to dialogue about PD. These findings suggest that employees think resources for PD are scarcer than they actually are.
We also found that there were no differences in these data points between varied sizes and types of institutions. Participants responded to these questions on the survey similarly regardless of whether they were employed at a technical college, a prestigious liberal arts school, or a flagship state institution. We found no statistical correlation between the beliefs about the availability of resources and the probable access to resources. Employees at an R1 were just as likely as employees at a community college to see resource constraints as the primary barrier to seeking PD, and department/division leaders at a community college are just as unlikely as leaders at an R1 to see resource constraints as a primary barrier.
No matter the type of institution, leaders who commit to providing division-wide or enterprise-wide support for the professional development of their faculty and staff will need to recognize that simply providing the support isn’t enough by itself; leaders have to also take steps to break down the myths that keep supervisors/department heads from engaging their faculty and staff in regular dialogue about their PD—and the myths that deter some faculty and staff from requesting PD.
Finding #7. Practices such as individualized PD plans and integration of PD into the performance review cycle make a significant difference in job satisfaction.
Another finding is that significant gains in employee job satisfaction can be realized when the dialogue between supervisors or department heads and their faculty and staff about PD is structured and regular rather than ad hoc, and when it is systemic across the institution. Below are three examples, surfaced from the survey data, of how to achieve these gains.
Individual learning plans
The survey asked whether departments are creating annual, written professional development plans for each employee:
Most employees said either that there are no structured discussions about PD (21%) or that there are discussions but nothing is written down (34%). Only 13% of respondents said that their organizations have well-defined written plans with clear objectives and criteria.
Those who reported having well-defined written PD plans were 85% more likely to report high job satisfaction, 25% less likely to report they would seek work elsewhere in the coming year, and slightly more likely (1.1 times) to see PD as closely aligned with the strategic objectives and priorities of the institution.
Consider the axiom that we can’t measure what we aren’t tracking, and also the principle that we are more likely to strive toward and achieve goals we write down than we are toward goals we don’t write down. Leaders that are committed to investing in their employees’ capacity can consider having structured annual discussions with each employee about their PD needs and opportunities—and documenting the outcomes of those discussions.
Integration into the annual review process
Many faculty and staff report that their professional development either is never discussed during annual reviews (14%) or is discussed but has no impact on decisions about promotion or compensation (32%):
Similarly, 53% of employees believe there would be “no reaction” from their department head or supervisor if they did not participate in PD in a given year. That may be a telling diagnostic, given that leadership engagement in PD is also directly predictive of job satisfaction.
At those few institutions where PD is well-integrated into the annual review process, employees also report:
- Higher ratings of leaders’ level of support for employees’ PD
- Fewer perceived barriers to participating in PD
- Higher ratings of job satisfaction
- Lower chances of the employee saying they would seek work elsewhere
Encouraging follow-up after PD
Third, the survey asked faculty and staff what follow-up activities they are expected to engage in after attending and completing a professional development opportunity. The following table lists the most frequent activities:
It’s axiomatic that we learn best when teaching what we’ve learned, and that by sharing our knowledge, we grow more informed and more efficient. Unfortunately, nearly one in four employees (24.4%) report that no follow-up or knowledge sharing of any kind is requested or expected after they complete a professional development opportunity. Additionally,
31.5% report an absence of ongoing support from their leadership to implement what they’ve learned.
Finding #8. Even incremental progress toward systemic support for PD makes a measurable, significant difference.
Though the survey findings suggest that systemic and structured support for PD at institutions of higher education may be rare, the data also suggests that even minor, incremental steps toward providing that support can make a measurable difference in both job satisfaction and the perceived alignment of PD opportunities with departmental or institutional priorities and objectives.
The data suggests that even if a leader made just one procedural change—such as discussing PD in the context of the annual review—the likelihood of high job satisfaction and employee retention increases, even without making any other changes in PD offerings or funding. When we examined the relationship between this variable and others, the results also showed a linear progression; each step in the scale correlated to higher job satisfaction. Moving from “we don’t discuss” PD during annual review to “we discuss it but it has no impact” produces an incremental increase in the likelihood of job satisfaction and in the perceived alignment between PD and departmental objectives, as does moving from “it has no impact” to “it has some impact.” The same is true with efforts to establish individualized learning plans for employees; even small steps toward that goal make a difference.
In summary, employees seek PD to improve the effectiveness of their work, and greater support for PD improves their job satisfaction and likelihood of retention. Therefore, a more planful approach to supporting professional development is a critical and integral part of a department or division’s commitment both to building the capacity of its people and to leveraging their talent and skill effectively in the pursuit of strategic priorities. That more planful approach would be one in which professional development plans are developed and documented, professional development is reviewed annually, and there are clear expectations for how learnings from professional development are to be disseminated and shared with the rest of a team or department. When PD planning is part of an annual process—where PD objectives are aligned with departmental and unit objectives—and when learnings from PD are disseminated, PD is no longer an ad hoc and underutilized asset but instead becomes one of the core strategies by which teams, departments, divisions, and institutions improve and challenge themselves and advance their mission.
Additionally, it is critical that those in leadership or supervisory positions in higher education consider proactive outreach to their employees to initiate and structure the dialogue around PD plans, objectives, and opportunities. This is important because faculty and staff cite numerous perceived barriers or disincentives to seeking PD, while supervisors do not recognize the presence or validity of these barriers. The gap is greater for women and employees from underrepresented groups, and the onus is on leadership to close that gap and create a space for a more productive conversation around PD.
Such an investment is timely because during an era of uncertainty and rapid change, there is a greater, not lesser, need to foster connection, networking, and sharing of practices among colleagues. The institutions that will emerge from a time of crisis in a position to thrive will be those whose leaders, faculty, and staff are empowered and equipped to think opportunistically, creatively, and with a growth mindset. During such a time, existing mindsets and approaches to the work need to be challenged. Creative solutions need to be sought, identified, piloted, and shared. Systemic, enterprise-wide support for professional development—in a structured, intentional way—cultivates a growth mindset in the academic workforce, communicates a powerful and necessary message to the institution’s employees about their leadership’s confidence and investment in their people, and strengthens the institution’s capacity and resilience in the face of change.
Academic Impressions, May 2020
What Type of Connector are you?
In today’s era, we are not just connected – we are over-connected. The average amount of time we spend on email and online meetings is growing exponentially. Research tells us that in today’s world, it is not about being a connector. It is about how we connect intelligently with our resources.
In an interview between Marshall Goldsmith (author and leading business coach) and Erica Dhawan (Founder & CEO of Cotential and the world’s authority on Connectional Intelligence), we learn that there are three types of connectors you need to lead dream-teams today:
- The thinker: Thinkers are great at connecting around ideas. They know how to bring together different ideas. They have a lot of curiosity and courage to think in new ways.
- The enabler: Enablers are the awesome community builders. They know how to bring together all the right people. They are the traditional networking types.
- The executor: Executors are the people who are great at mobilizing – “get things done.”
So, think about it: once you have an idea (thinker), you get the right people (enabler), and you mobilize and turn it into action (executor). And, it is not about being the best at all of these yourself; it is about designing a team that leverages your style as a leader.
The best leaders understands their own style and are mindful of tapping into the diversity of their network and skills that are different than theirs as they are building teams to get big things done.
Note: To review the entire interview, log onto http://www.marshallgoldsmith.com/connectional-intelligence
Strong vs Strength
When was your last interview for a leadership position or any position for that matter? Did you fear that all-looming question: “What do you consider your strengths and, likewise, your weaknesses?” Well, ignoring the ‘weakness’ part of that question, just for fun and a bit of self-examination, let’s consider the following take on “A Strong Woman vs a Woman of Strength.”
- A strong woman works out every day to keep her body in shape – but a woman of strength kneels in prayer to keep her soul in shape.
- A strong woman is not afraid of anything – but a woman of strength shows courage in the midst of her fear.
- A strong woman will not let anyone get the best of her – but a woman of strength gives the best of herself to everyone.
- A strong woman makes mistakes and avoids the same in the future – but a woman of strength realizes life’s mistakes can also be God’s blessings and capitalizes on them.
- A strong woman walks sure footedly – but a woman of strength knows God will catch her when she falls.
- A strong woman wears the look of confidence on her face – but a woman of strength wears grace.
- A strong woman has faith that she is strong enough for the journey – but a woman of strength has faith that it is in the journey that she will become strong.
Strong vs strength – both are excellent virtues, but would you rather be known for being strong or for what you stand for?
~ Author unknown
“A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.”
“What if 2020 isn’t cancelled?
What if 2020 is the year we’ve been waiting for?
A year so uncomfortable, so painful, so scary, so raw —
that it finally forces us to grow.
A year that screams so loud, finally awakening us
from our ignorant slumber.
A year we finally accept the need for change.
Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.
A year we finally band together, instead of
pushing each other further apart.
2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather
the most important year of them all.”
writer | designer | co-founder
LEADING AN INSTITUTION IN UNPRECEDENTED TIMES
By: Justin Hoehn
Number: 6 Leadership Abstracts
(first photo: At this point in any normal year, the campuses of Kirkwood Community College, like those of colleges across the U.S. and beyond, would be enjoying the relative quiet of another summer term. There would be some campus and classroom activity, of course, but compared to the hustle and bustle of fall and spring, the hallways would have a serene and peaceful quality to them. In many ways, it would seem as if the college itself was resting as it prepared for the grind of another fall semester. But this is 2020—and it is not a normal year.)
If you go to one of Kirkwood’s campuses today, buildings are locked, no students or faculty walk the halls, and classrooms and offices sit empty. Yet, Kirkwood is alive and well—it’s just been transformed. Lectures have been moved from physical spaces to digital classrooms. Financial Aid and Enrollment staff assist students from the comfort (or, some might say, confinement) of their own homes. Campus visits and orientations are performed virtually. While not everything is available as it was at the beginning of the year, students still receive the instruction and services they need.
While the Kirkwood community followed the news about COVID-19, particularly once the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global health emergency on January 30, the virus seemed mostly contained to far-off parts of the world, despite its rapid spread. However, as the virus began to spread more rapidly around the globe and cases were identified in the U.S., people began to be more concerned.
When it became apparent that COVID-19 would have a profound impact on Kirkwood and the surrounding community, many questions had to be answered if the college was to continue to function. How would students receive instruction? What needed to happen to convert in-person classes to an online format? How would Kirkwood, one of the largest higher education institutions in Iowa, move all of its faculty and staff to a remote working environment? Perhaps most importantly, how would it all happen in a matter of days? Leadership had to act quickly.
The first response from the college started in early February when a small group of staff gathered to discuss a public health-style Stop the Spread flier promoting good hygiene practices and hand washing. While the language was kept generic to apply to all respiratory diseases, including COVID-19, it was primarily developed to address a seemingly aggressive flu strain. As part of this initial effort, Kirkwood's Campus Health webpage was updated with information and tips to help stop the spread of illness. A few sentences were dedicated to COVID-19, but detail was minimal.
With students from all over the world studying at Kirkwood and study abroad programs on the horizon, the Global Learning department began communicating pertinent COVID-19 information to its students through emails and website updates. As the situation progressed, the department continued to keep these students informed with the latest travel advisories, study abroad information, and data from WHO and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Increasingly concerned about the alarming news surrounding the virus, Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg called a meeting with select college leadership in late February to discuss the virus, the threat it posed, and CDC recommendations, and to start thinking about contingency plans if the situation devolved to the level where action had to be taken. While no concrete decisions were made at that point, one thing was certain: Communication with the campus community would need to be a large part of any college response. To help alleviate anxiety, a note from President Sundberg addressing the situation was sent to faculty and staff.
“I felt it was important to let everyone know that the college was monitoring the situation and was prepared to act, if necessary,” said Sundberg. She continued,
Even though we had no confirmed cases in Iowa at that point, you could feel a definite rise in the anxiety level around the institution. So, I wanted to ease their minds and let them know that we would do whatever was necessary to help keep our community safe.
As the calendar flipped to March, contingency planning for various scenarios was well underway. To keep the college community informed, regular communications were sent to students and employees. Topics ranged from travel advisories to restrictions for students in health programs to the need to stay informed. As the spread of the virus continued to pick up speed, so did the number of messages to everyone on campus, especially after the first cases in Iowa were reported in Johnson County—within the college’s service area.
President Sundberg called the Kirkwood Incident Command team together on March 10. The purpose of the team, with representatives from Academic Affairs, Student Services, Information Technologies, Marketing and Communications, and Facilities and Security, was to execute the decisions of college leadership. When the WHO announced the next day that the outbreak had reached pandemic level, the group put a plan in motion to limit potential spread on campus. Lecture classes were moved online after spring break, while labs and hands-on classes remained in a face-to-face format. At the same time, an email address, manned by Student Services staff, was established to answer student questions and concerns. The new blueprint for classroom instruction was to be in place until at least April 10, with the stipulation that the plan could change at any time, based on new data.
As Kirkwood was preparing to implement the new plan just before spring break, President Trump declared a national emergency. This announcement, coupled with the barrage of bad news about COVID-19 over the weekend, prompted the college to announce more stringent measures to help protect the Kirkwood community:
- All face-to-face classes, including labs and hands-on courses, were suspended through April 10.
- Lecture classes were moved online through April 10 rather than March 23.
- Continuing Education classes were suspended through April 10.
- College buildings and locations were closed to everyone except a handful of employees needed to perform essential in-person tasks through April 3.
- All campus-based events were cancelled through April 3.
- All college-related travel was suspended through April 10.
For the college to continue operations and offer classes and services remotely based on this plan, and do it without a hitch, much work needed to be done.
Academic Affairs was tasked with moving all lecture classes to an online format and getting students and faculty prepared. Fortunately, many faculty and staff were already familiar with the video conferencing app Zoom, but those who weren’t needed to be quickly trained. There was also the issue of making sure that students had the ability to attend class online. Working with the IT department, Academic Affairs set up a system for students to request and check out laptops and Internet hotspots. The IT department also set employees up on Kirkwood’s virtual private network and college phone lines, as needed. In addition, IT support was required by Student Services departments—including Academic Advising, Financial Aid, Registration, Veterans Affairs, and Student Life—which would continue to offer services during the shutdown. For example, the student food pantry was more essential than ever, as some of the students and families that relied on its services were losing their jobs. Student Services, therefore, worked with the Facilities department to find a suitable outdoor space for mobile food distribution.
With the buildings and campuses temporarily closed, the Human Resources department was charged with setting expectations for working remotely and ensuring that faculty and staff still received their paychecks. As always, the Finance department had to safeguard the financial health of the institution while also keeping track of college expenditures due to COVID-19. And, finally, the Facilities department was tasked with maintaining a long-term plan for campus closures.
To keep everyone on the same page, Marketing and Communications continued to disseminate important information to the Kirkwood community, including students, employees, the community, and local news media. At the same time, a COVID-19 section of the website was developed so anyone could easily get the most up-to-date information at the institution.
When everything came together and the dust settled, President Sundberg stated that she had never been more proud of Kirkwood and its employees:
We had a monumental task in front of us. Having never done anything like this before, there was a good chance that we’d hit a snag. But this team is amazing. Everyone from the cabinet to the custodians knew their role and performed it well. When it was time to press the start button and go remote, we were ready. Despite the circumstances, it was incredible to see in action.
The New Normal
The first week after spring break went by relatively uneventfully. Faculty taught their classes using Zoom and students interacted online. At the virtual cabinet meetings, which were at this point an everyday occurrence, the vice presidents gave updates for their areas as everyone adjusted to the new normal.
(second photo: Todd Prusha, who provides part-time instructor support for the Kirkwood Distance Learning department, records a video at his home during the pandemic.)
President Sundberg’s messages shifted from written to video format. Filmed on her cell phone and edited by the Marketing department, these messages were recorded and sent to the Kirkwood community at least once a week. The idea was that seeing and hearing the president talk would help to ease minds in such stressful times. In fact, many faculty and staff noted their appreciation for the president’s efforts.
Although everything was happening pretty much as planned, some questions still had to be answered. When was everyone coming back to campus? If that couldn’t happen, how would students in labs and face-to-face classes be able to fulfill their requirements in order to pass? What could be done to help students experiencing severe hardships as a result of COVID-19? As Kirkwood leadership searched for answers to the first two questions, the CARES Act, signed into law on March 27, provided relief to some of Kirkwood’s students when they needed it most.
Of the $6.3 million that was allotted to Kirkwood from the CARES Act, more than $3.1 million was earmarked to help the Kirkwood student body. In addition, some of the college’s Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) program funds were used to help students. Students were required to fill out an application indicating their needs, such as housing, food, and technology. According to Kirkwood Director of Financial Aid Matt Falduto, as the number of requests grew, it became apparent that the college had to move quickly to help as many students as possible:
The response was overwhelming. We heard heartbreaking stories of students who lost their jobs and couldn’t afford rent, school supplies, and even basic necessities like food. The applications showed that people of all ages were struggling, from traditional college students to single parents to those who provide for large families. These people were desperate, and we knew we had to act fast.
Meanwhile, as the Kirkwood Financial Aid and Finance departments worked through how to award the CARES Act funds, President Sundberg announced that the remote working environment would be extended until at least May 18. Everyone hoped it would end soon, but with infection and death rates steadily rising across the world, the new normal trudged on with no end in sight.
The month of May brought warmer weather and a few rays of hope as the news started to turn a bit toward the positive. On May 8, the college dispersed the first round of CARES Act and FSEOG monies to students. On that day alone, more than $1.8 million was awarded to students who desperately needed it.
Eight days later, the first (and hopefully only) virtual commencement at Kirkwood took place. With the help of a company specializing in virtual graduation ceremonies, the college was able to recognize the achievements of graduates while still respecting social distancing guidelines. Visitors to the site heard remarks typical of a commencement ceremony from various speakers. In addition, individualized profiles recognized each graduate participating in the ceremony and congratulations and well wishes were given from Kirkwood community members and students. The event was well-received and was a wonderful send-off for a great number of well-deserving students as they moved on to the next stage of their life.
Once President Sundberg asked administration to start planning for the recovery process, the cabinet split into subcommittees to develop a plan to make it happen. To start, the college needed to get students back into labs to complete their coursework, not only for classes moving forward, but also for the time students in spring courses had missed. As part of the plan, President Sundberg announced that faculty, staff, and students would return in a phased approach:
- Phase one began on June 1 for essential services necessary to prepare the college to reopen for future recovery phases. Those included in phase one represent a very small part of the overall campus community.
- Phase two began on June 8 to support face-to-face classes starting in mid-June. This group includes employees who must be on campus to support the limited number of face- to-face classes and services approved for the summer semester.
- Phase three will start in early August for the fall semester and will include personnel who must be on campus to support fall semester college functions.
Today and in the Future
Phase two has begun, and the process to bring people back to campus is underway. Now the entire Kirkwood community waits to see if this measured approach can be sustained, or if a return to remote working will be necessary for everyone. While no one knows what will happen next, Kirkwood has proven it can handle anything this virus throws at it. According to Sundberg,
This whole situation with COVID-19 has tested our institution. What’s incredible is that we have passed with flying colors thus far. I have to credit our proactive thinking in tackling this issue, rather than reactive thinking. We came together, we made a plan, and we stuck to it. This experience has shown us not only how to handle the unknown, but also that our institution is up to the challenge. Whatever the future brings, with this virus or otherwise, we’ll be ready.
Schumaker, E. (2020, April 23). Timeline: How coronavirus got started. ABC News. Retrieved from abcnews.go.com/Health/timeline-coronavirus-started/story?id=69435165
World Health Organization. (2020, April 27). WHO timeline - COVID-19. Retrieved from www.who.int/news-room/detail/27-04-2020-who-timeline---covid-19
Sostaric, K., & Krebs, N. (2020, March 8). Iowa's first three coronavirus cases detected in Johnson County. Iowa Public Radio. Retrieved from www.iowapublicradio.org/post/iowas-first- three-coronavirus-cases-detected-johnson-county#stream/0
Justin Hoehn is Associate Director, Marketing, at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.
June is Pride Mentoring Month
The National Mentoring Partnership has designated June as Pride Mentoring Month. This project primarily focuses on lifting up a movement built upon fighting for equality and acceptance for all. As we commemorate "Pride," we must remember that Pride started with a protest. The Stonewall rebellion was a protest led by people of color that sought to defend the LGBTQ+ community from police brutality ~ which is so resonant today. To learn more about the #MENTORPride campaign and how you can get involved, visit www.mentoring.org/pride.
“The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, was a stark reminder to all of us: people of color are not safe in America. In seeking to make sense of such a senseless act, a former colleague found himself reflecting on the meaning of empathy. He wrote, as defined by Merriam-Webster, “empathy is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” He concluded with, “If we would simply have the emotional intelligence to understand what another person is feeling or experiencing, it could be the bridge to solving numerous issues in American society.”
In the coming weeks, take time to reflect and see where it leads you. If you are inclined, share your thoughts with us and we will post them to our website. Following is a statement from ACE President Ted Mitchell.
STATEMENT BY ACE PRESIDENT TED MITCHELL ON RACIAL VIOLENCE AND INJUSTICE
"We live in a nation where life, liberty, and justice are supposed to be the birthright of all. But for too many those words are laced with cruel irony and frustration in the face of seemingly intractable discrimination. Racism is always a form of violence: against the spirit, the intellect, and the soul. And as we witnessed anew last week, the violence of racism frequently becomes physical. George Floyd’s murder was horrific and cannot be tolerated or explained away any more than the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others can be. Neither can the underlying and systemic racism that makes everyday life a fight for Black Americans. Indeed for too many Americans, just taking a drive to the store or going jogging in their own neighborhood is an experience filled with fear and trepidation.
Those of us who are white do not know that fear, but we must try to understand it and recognize the wounds of those who endure it. But more, we must reject the bigotry and ignorance that is at the root of the violence that is racism. We must act now to ensure justice, eradicate racialized practices, and work to build communities that embrace diversity and celebrate inclusion.
At its best, that is a part of the work higher education does and must do. At its best, higher education has a profound civic purpose and stands for our highest aspirations as a nation. At their best, our campuses are places where all perspectives and beliefs are respected, and all races, ethnic backgrounds, cultures, and sexual and gender identities embraced. But we are not at our best. Let’s be clear: Black students are less likely to graduate than their white peers, need to borrow more to fund their education than white students, and often suffer serious incidents of racial abuse.
We can and must do better. We can start by acknowledging that, like so many Americans today, members of our campus communities are hurting and scared. We can start by reaching out to them. The murder of George Floyd is only the latest terrible example of racial violence in our country, and it comes in the midst of a global pandemic that is serving to further expose the racial inequities and economic fault lines that have long plagued us.
The time to right systemic and ongoing wrongs is long past due. The time for listening is now. The time to help members of our communities is now. The time to act is now."
First and foremost, we hope this message finds you safe and well. Leaning into our new normal will require continued caring, courage, and connection. As shared by our State Chair Kimberly Hurns in her message to all us last week, our network is more important than ever.
Part of our virtual outreach going forward will include starting your week with a dose of inspiration. With that, Welcome to Mentoring Mondays . . . where we will share creative ideas, words of wisdom, professional development opportunities and quips that will make you smile.
Should you have something you’d like us to publish via Mentoring Mondays, please forward to Martha Grier, Professional Development Chair, at [email protected]
Leadership Lessons Hidden in the Coronavirus Crisis
Needless to say, the past few months have challenged our way of thinking, leading, and way of life. As we continue to navigate this time of uncertainty and chaos, we should find ways to turn this “lemon into lemonade” and identify the potential gifts of leading in a time of hardship. I have taken excerpts from an article in Academic Impressions, a higher education publication, and changed its focus to fit the leadership for any organization, whether educational or corporate. Please note these five gifts:
- The Gift of Clarity on What Matters: While much is unclear now, it is apparent that most businesses and organizations have demonstrated that what matters is the safety and well-being of people. The financial perils of having to suspend normal operations, has caused us to identify a new normal – a new mode of maintaining operations remotely. We have learned valuable lessons that may (or may not) lead to new ways of leading and sustaining longevity.
- The Gift of a Renewed Focus on Community: We have a renewed sense of community – reaching out and supporting one another. Of all the lessons we can take away from this experience, this might have the longest-lasting effect on us as individuals. We have seen people come up with creative ways to support our health care professionals and first responders – we have chosen to support each other as opposed to turning inwardly and becoming selfish.
- The Gift of Strategic Surrender: To be clear, no one has given up. However, we have listened to local and global experts and then decided how we should relinquish what we know and cling to as “normal” and strategically surrendered our autonomy in order to act on behalf of the common good.
- The Gift of Listening: We have had to listen and rely upon external input. With intention, we have listened, with compassion to hear the hope, flaws and vulnerability in all proposed options and solutions. There is a gift in learning to listen genuinely, with bravery and purpose.
- The Gift of Imperfection: No matter how we chose to proceed, it may not be perfect. To quote another higher education publication author referred to as “Dean Dad,” “One good often conflicts with another, and choices are inevitably made among flawed options, in imperfect conditions, with limited information.”
These are difficult times and the journey is not over. We wish you courage, strength and grace as we move forward.
Martha J. Grier
Professional Development Committee Chair
Source: Academic Impressions, a higher education publication, article by Many Dana Hinton, President of the College of Saint Benedict.