I happened to be in Portland for an event at my son’s college, Lewis and Clark, when I first heard the news that University of Washington (UW) would be the first campus to shift to teaching online on March 6, after a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus. I knew it would only be a matter of time before universities across the country would have to take similar actions. Although Seattle was a focal point for the outbreak, community transmission was starting to occur across the country.
While in Portland, I was staying with a good friend, Ken Stedman, who happens to know a lot about viruses. He has been doing interviews with local and international news media since the outbreak began in China. I was particularly impressed with an interview he did with the local news in Portland, in which he gave a very cogent explanation of what we do and don’t know about the virus.
By last Tuesday, it was clear that there was a lot of confusion about steps that should be taken and the risks, particularly for college students. Communication was all over the place. Harvard announced that it would be shutting down its dorms and shifting to online teaching. Unfortunately, the announcement left students in the lurch, as describe in this article from the Washington Post:
It felt like a descent into chaos, said Ajay Singh, a junior serving as a peer adviser who found himself trying to answer questions from international students and panicky first-years unable to afford travel home, when he had just woken up to the alert himself. He spent part of Tuesday stuffing random clothes into boxes and talking with other students about the “five-day eviction notice,” a phrase rattling around campus.
I became very concerned about the message that parents and students were getting, and decided CHEL would be well placed to provide critical information as universities moved quickly to make decisions on closures and teaching online. As a parent, I was impressed with the way that my son’s college had responded, giving students ample time to transition to home, or to stay on campus if necessary.
We decided to host a webinar for higher ed leaders, to provide some basic information about how administrators should respond and the impact that the closures were having on students. We were able to pull together a fantastic panel, including Ken Stedman, along with Futurist Bryan Alexander, and Eddy Conroy from the Hope Center (created by Sara Goldrick-Rab). We also started aggregating resources related to a variety of topics on the virus on our website.
Based on the response we got to this webinar, we have made the decision to host a weekly webinar on issues surrounding COVID-19 for faculty and administrators in higher education. These weekly webinars will continue for at least the next month, and as long as they are relevant as the virus evolves. The webinars will be free and publicly available to members and non-members alike, as a public service during this crisis.
The next webinar will be Thursday, March 19th at 9am Pacific, 1pm Eastern. The focus will be on crisis communications, and finding new ways to communicate with students, with panelists Jonathan Friedman of PEN America and Kimberly Gray of Uvii, a company working to address issues facing students, instructors, and educational ecosystems. Please join us by registering here; the webinar will also be recorded.
I have also seen that many of my faculty friends and colleagues are worried about dealing with the transition to teaching online, and the impact this will have on tenure and promotion. There are financial concerns as well, as students and parents ask for refunds for housing or even for tuition in cases where classes have been cancelled. There are concerns for graduating seniors and students studying abroad, in terms of how they will deal with credits they may lose.
Does your campus have an alert system? At the University of Texas at Austin, we had an alert system that could send text messages as well as loudspeakers around campus for urgent announcements about dangers on campus. Another way to send alerts is via Twitter. UW has the @UWalert tag for sending updates.
There are many issues that will arise, and we are here to help you navigate the unknown and unintended consequences of the current situation. We continue to work hard to bring these important resources to the higher ed community. We are sustained solely through membership. Please consider supporting our mission by becoming a member — or if you are already a member, inviting a colleague to join, or gifting a scholarship membership for a graduate student or HBCU. You can also support us with a monetary donation through our iFundWomen Campaign.
We hope you will support our efforts and join us!
About the author
Terri Givens, Founder & CEO
Dr. Terri E. Givens is the Founder and CEO of The Center for Higher Education Leadership (CHEL). She was the former Provost at Menlo College in the San Francisco Bay Area; Professor of Government and European studies at The University of Texas at Austin; Vice Provost overseeing undergraduate curriculum and spearheading global initiatives as its chief international officer. She formed CHEL to provide academic leaders with information and a supportive community for improving management and leadership skills in an environment of changing demographics, financial challenges, and advances in educational technology. CHEL was born of Terri’s experiences navigating these fields and learning along her journey through academe, from professor to vice-provost and provost at universities in Texas and California.