Todd Butler.

In the era of COVID, too few institutions have been considering changes to policies and procedures that could support a wide range of researchers, writes Todd Butler, interim dean of the WSU College of Arts & Sciences.

As we begin the spring semester, the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage and worsen. It’s thus time for higher education to stop treating COVID-19’s impact on faculty careers as primarily a time-management problem, one that can be handled through clock extensions and other short-term interventions. Especially at research-oriented universities, responding effectively to the upheaval resulting from COVID-19 will instead require both institutions and faculty members to reimagine long-term policies and structures that define productivity, tenure and promotion. How institutions of higher education respond to this upheaval is crucial for their futures.

Organizational change is challenging even in nonpandemic times. Institutional policies reflect structures designed at the time of their founding, and change can imply that long-standing practices — and the faculty who have followed them successfully — are in some way “wrong.” Yet none of the suggestions above abandons our research mission. Rather, they widen and update it, disentangling stress-inducing and time-bound measures of “productivity” from the foundational intellectual ambitions that drive faculty members — to inquire, to create and to make a difference with what we learn.

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Inside Higher Ed