Gritting Your Teeth and Rolling Up Your Sleeves: Leading Change on Today’s Campus

Credit: Hawkins

Way back in the fall of 2020 I published a piece on Medium, “Ten Ways to Promote Culture Change on a University Campus.” I had originally drafted it in 2019, before the pandemic. In the fall of 2020, we were waiting for the vaccine and hopeful that soon everyone would be  vaccinated, COVID would quickly recede, and life on our campuses would return to normal. “Ten Ways” is full of that confidence—lots of active verbs and declarative statements: it was written, after all, on the basis of more than 30 years of university experience, many of those spent in positions that had “associate” in the title (that is, positions with a lot of responsibility but little real authority or power). I was pretty sure I knew a thing or two.

Maybe I still do, but I can’t pretend that the campuses on which we teach and research are the same as they used to be. And I can’t pretend that the students, faculty, and staff who form our campus communities are the same either. The past four years have changed us all. If anything, they have also clarified the need to transform our institutions. The impact of the pandemic, the intensified calls for racial justice, the organized attacks on higher education, and budgetary crises spurred in part by a looming recession all call us to remake our campuses and to do so quickly.

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