Long term planning for corona - academic edition
March 21, 2020 12:26 PM   Subscribe

My university is shut down. How can we support staff welfare at my university in the long term, and help in dealing with extended shut down?

My university is shut down. The institution, along with all the others here, is rushing to get support in place for students to finish their studies. This means a lot of work to pivot to new systems for delivery and assessment. It means a lot of stress to keep research projects moving forward when labs etc are off limits or methodologies ruled out. All colleagues have been told to work at home but many have no space in which to work and their kids will be at home full time now. Working at home also rips aside the curtain between work and home life, which is often a problem already in academia. I think this will add more stress to everyone's jobs and wider lives. Finally, much of regular destressing activity will not be available for obvious reasons.

I would be interested in any and all suggestions for strategies for helping staff to deal with this. At the smaller scale for my direct report team but if you have ideas to bump up the chain then that would be great too. Give me a whole strategy if you have one! My thinking is its best to start now rather than wait till the cracks emerge.

Staying at home is essential. You can probably assume a bunch of tools for comms, certainly everyone has Teams, but other apps too.
posted by biffa to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For faculty, a lot of universities are not counting this year for tenure progress. Many have also cancelled course evals.
Reminders about everyone having some grace and understanding can help.
posted by k8t at 12:34 PM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

If we are talking staff, paying attention to their physical safety. Closing offices, even if people have to come in to work, and letting everybody communicate via phone and chat and email and video is way better than making people work face-to-face.

I just had a conversation with the faculty member at another university, and we agreed that remembering that “we aim for excellence, but adequate is adequate” in an emergency situation isn’t entirely reasonable course goal. Not stressing about small things while trying to get every student past the finish line of the semester is way better than getting hung up on some other definitions of fairness in the classroom that would be more appropriate in a “normal” situation.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:11 PM on March 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

University staff often feel like the very last concern on anyone’s list. (This is probably not a surprise to you.). It’s been heartening to me to specifically hear my grand-boss acknowledge that and commit to advocating for us with the higher-ups. When their emergency communications focus on faculty and students and forget about staff, he’s followed up immediately to let us know what applies to us and what he’s seeking clarification on. It’s been greatly appreciated.

It’s been helpful that in my group we were told to go ahead and request anything under $X that will help us be more comfortable, safe, and/or productive at home and our coordinator will order it delivered directly to our house. Over that we have to get preapproval but it’s helpful to everyone, I think, not to have us all requesting special permission to buy a new mouse or whatever.

Generally, the combination of being treated like an adult, trusted to act responsibly, and consistently shown that my safety and health are the top priorities, goes a long way toward making me feel like work is not an added stressor in my life right now.
posted by Stacey at 2:13 PM on March 21, 2020 [7 favorites]

I'm a university staff member. Our university has started online meditation classes M-F. Co-workers are doing yoga on zoom, we're using Slack to check in regularly. There are some support staff left on campus, just yesterday I may have seen a cart load of beer in the building to thank those who were working onsite.
posted by jennstra at 2:56 PM on March 21, 2020 [6 favorites]

Going to agree with Stacey. As staff (especially as non-research staff), we often get a brief "oh yeah, and you guys exist too we guess" acknowledgement in communications and directives from administration, so any mitigation of that attitude from our unit leadership goes a long way. Our institution was woefully slow when it came to decision-making surrounding getting staff physically off campus, long after students had been told to not come back from break and faculty had been told to start teaching online. So, i and the other manager of the department took matters into our own hands and sent our staff home to work as an executive decision. Zero regrets there.

Now that we're all home, we have regular Zoom get togethers--more frequent than our usual weekly department meetings, just to remind each other what we look like and that were all still here and human. We had a little Zoom birthday party for one of our staff yesterday.

Me and the other manager are fighting daily with unit leadership to enforce some limitation on the number of hours we're working (we're the academic technology support team lolsob). For staff with kids at home, I think implementing some informal job sharing is a good idea because the reality is that no one with kids younger than teen is going to be working at 100% of effort right now. And in fact everyone is likely having mental health struggles of varying levels of severity. Hearing from leadership that it's okay to not be at full power right now would be really nice.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:51 PM on March 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Jason Fried (of bandcamp fame) posted this on Twitter earlier in the week. I thought it was wonderful. I'm IT staff at a university and really wished our communication from higher-ups had included language like that tweet. Grace, mercy, and kindness are attributes I keep reminding myself I need to display. Especially as we start all-online tomorrow. Yikes! :)
posted by tayknight at 3:19 PM on March 22, 2020

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