Terri Givens

by Terri E. Givens

College students across the country are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as they have had to complete this school year online and they have been at the center of protests of police violence. As campuses scramble to deal with the impact of the pandemic, they must also keep in mind that their students are expecting action to be taken for ameliorating racial disparities on their college campuses and in their communities. On their own, either of these situations could be difficult for campus leaders, but together they are impacting nearly every department on their campus.

In another example of the shift in thinking for campus leaders, a recent survey of college presidents conducted by Inside Higher Ed found:

“Nearly three-quarters of presidents (72 percent) are either very or somewhat concerned about a ‘perceived decrease in the value of higher education’ because of COVID-19, up sharply from 60 percent of respondents in April and 48 percent in March.”

The increase is clearly due to the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on instruction during the last few months, as well as the fact that most institutions will be doing some form of online teaching into the fall. Many students and their parents are concerned about the value of online and remote teaching and campus leaders will need to assure students that they are getting value from whatever approach their campuses choose for the coming year.

This new reality requires a new mindset. The health and safety of students must be top of mind, but it is also important that students are able to continue their studies and the social relationships that are an important component of campus life. African American students will be looking for campus leaders to find ways to address disparities that are built into our system of education, and even a part of the landscape, as we see confederate statues and monuments taken down

 It will take a focus on strategy to adapt to this new environment that is developing around the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement. Students will be asking for more than the statements of support that many campuses have shared in recent weeks. 

The Center for Higher Education Leadership is partnering with IQ4Agile, a new organization led by Jeff Burstein. You may be aware of the Agile approach — in this context Jeff and his team coach leadership on the Lean-Agile mindset, how to support and grow teams, creating a vision that will guide staff and faculty as they develop their personal goals while creating an educational experience designed around the student and their educational goals. This approach allows campuses to deliver a meaningful education focused on providing the highest value to the student.

At CHEL we are committed to a student-centered approach for leadership. We believe that higher education provides exceptional value for students, but that leaders will need to explore new ways to incorporate student needs and desires into their strategic planning processes and in the ways that they approach learning. For example, as Provost at Menlo College, I worked with faculty to get feedback from alumni on the ways they would like to see curriculum changed to meet the demands they were seeing as they entered the workforce. We were able to update our curriculum on an ongoing basis and engage young alumni in campus developments.

As institutions work on their accreditation and assessment processes, an Agile approach can provide a framework that ensures the breaking down of campus silos and collaboration across campus. Including the student voice in these processes will be important as campuses adjust to new realities around COVID-19. Many campuses are utilizing student surveys to get feedback on ways they can adapt to social distancing requirements while maintaining the social aspect of college that students desire. For example, I was heartened to see that my son’s college, Lewis and Clark, responded directly to students’ request for improved meeting spaces and food options for the upcoming school year. 

We will be providing more information on the Lean-Agile approach in the coming months and development new training opportunities for our members. In the meantime, check out our course on strategic planning for tips on how to prepare for the next set of challenges as we look towards an uncertain future.

Terri Givens and Jeff Burstein will be presenting on a panel titled “An Agile and Student-Centered Approach to Leadership” at the 2020 NASPA-NSLS virtual conference “Leading with Character in Times of Crisis,” which will take place via the virtual event platform July 28 and July 29, 2020. We hope you will join us and colleagues for an exciting, two-day event.

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