Preserving and enhancing faith in our nation’s scientific enterprise is central to the mission of every college and university. Our peers across higher education have been concerned about a multi-year trend for the public to devalue scientific research and expertise, and especially the growing partisan gap in the perception that science and scientists are trustworthy. The good news is that the pandemic has started to reverse this trend, with both Americans and citizens around the globe reporting renewed trust in science and medicine.
For colleges in the midst of presidential transition, this is often the time of year when search committees are reviewing candidates, selecting finalists and preparing to announce a new leader. It is an historic, forward-looking milestone in the life of an institution, and among the most important responsibilities trustees and university leaders undertake.
Last week we saw a Black man’s life snuffed out, horrifically. And we can’t “unsee” it.
I sat at the water’s edge here in northern Michigan this morning at dawn, reflecting on all that has happened over the course of the past few days. “How can I help?”, I thought to myself. “What can I do or do better? What part can I play in meaningful, positive change?”
As we watch colleges, universities, and schools struggle with decision-making around the fall, one fact looms large: there is an unprecedented level of uncertainty that, for many, is paralyzing.
Some of this is completely outside everyone’s control: Will the infection rate surge again? Will there be public health directives that affect campuses? Will there be travel restrictions? Can international students even get a visa?
But another significant portion is because all of our well-constructed planning models are off. What does it mean if a student participates in a virtual campus visit? Do enrollment deposits mean fall matriculants? And what’s going on with fundraising, anyway? All of our formulas for estimating yield, financial aid needs, or annual giving are completely blown out of the water in the midst of the pandemic.
One thing that can help with the second category of uncertainty is to gather fresh data. Many schools are doing just that: surveying students about their online experience, parents about their views on cost and value, faculty and staff about their experiences pivoting online and the support they need to deliver instruction and services in the fall. While these data can’t completely lift the mist, they might help you get out of the “dense fog” you’ve been driving through, to quote a recent Chronicle article.