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Gee on:The New Normal

Along with Animal Crossing, baking and jigsaw puzzles, another favorite activity has emerged as we endure our seventh week in quarantine: Predicting when and how this isolation will end.

Luckily, I have my own crystal ball at Blaney House, and it is telling me that we should move toward an in-person opening of our University as soon as possible, while taking appropriate safety and health precautions.

Everyone wants to get back to “normal,” but many recognize that this crisis will culminate in a “new normal.” The real question for me and for all of us is: What should our University look like as we face this new world?

Moving forward means gleaning what we have learned from this moment and applying it immediately to our educational enterprise. For one example, I am using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other connective devices and discovering that I can be quite effective, and certainly intensely engaged, from my office at Blaney House. Frankly, I thought that was never possible, so even old dogs are learning new tricks.

Facing immense financial challenges, many higher education leaders are simply hunkering down in their bunkers. And experts are predicting that perhaps a thousand institutions nationwide may fail to survive this crisis.

Mountaineers, with characteristic grit and determination, must scale the steeper but more rewarding path toward swift change. And we can. If anyone had told me months ago that we could move to a totally online institution within two weeks, I would have bet against that. But we did it, quite successfully. That was because we all recognized our stake in the University’s ongoing success.

This attitude will also propel us into our new normal and fuel our fearless inquiry on every issue: Where are our strengths and how do we enhance them? How do we attract new students and ensure that our retention and graduation rates soar? Has bureaucracy slowed our progress? What should we be teaching, and what should our students be learning to be competitive now? How do we enhance and accelerate our land-grant calling? We must ask ourselves these and, oh, so many more questions.

Nothing is sacred except our integrity. Nothing is more important than generating good will through communication and transparency. And is nothing more critical than leading the charge for change.

In the “new normal,” as never before, we will either be the architects of change or its victims.