Friday Focus: An opportunity to create a new normal

March 27, 2020

Tori Tragis

Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

In thinking about this month’s leadership column I thought to myself, there is no way that I am talking about the coronavirus. Every day our news is inundated with it and you hear from the governor, local mayors, the UA President or me about new restrictions or ways of doing business seemingly daily. We need a conversation that is not about a virus. That said, it may be because of, or in spite of the predicament we find ourselves in that there is new opportunity ahead. Opportunity is something I love to talk about!

As people are working from home more and more, I hear the question “How can I get engaged, included?” For starters, think ahead 6 months. This change in workflow, however long it lasts, is transforming us. It already has to a great extent. We are putting classes on line, coming up with new pedagogy for delivering classes and labs remotely, figuring out new ways to get research done. We are innovators. 

There was a piece I heard on the radio yesterday morning that talked about when we might get “back to normal”. I want us to see this as an opportunity to create a new normal. We will be in a new place in 3 months, 6 months and 9 months. I think the question for everyone to think about is what are we doing now that will make us better when the pandemic subsides. We want to be innovating now with an eye to the future. Our actions today will have different results if we are looking forward than they will if our goal is to get us back to where we were. 

I have been thinking that as modes of program delivery change, workloads change, service needs transform, what opportunities are afforded to us. How do we shift to a more efficient delivery of services model? All Universities in the country are going through the same challenge. Let’s be the ones that use this as a bridge to our future. 

So how can you help? Think about enrollment as you think about this current shift in course delivery methods. Will the students we attract to UAF in 6 months be the same as the ones who are enrolled today? How can today’s innovations drive tomorrow’s enrollment? Enrollment is everyone’s business and you can help. 

I am encouraged as I think about our new normal. Now more than ever, please make our new normal one that embraces a culture of inclusion and caring. A culture that does not stereotype or stigmatize specific nationalities, ethnicities, or health status. People who are ill need compassion, understanding. 

Earlier this week I asked Margo Griffith, UAF’s Director of the Department of Equity and Compliance, for some ideas on how to shift the focus from uncertainty and fear to care and compassion.  What Margo sent me was compiled by the UAF Diversity and Inclusion Council. Rather than paraphrase, I thought I would include their fine work verbatim. Please take this opportunity to reach out to someone who is feeling isolated, uncertain, or under the weather. Offer a shoulder to lean on. Take care of yourself.

Thank you for choosing UAF. Be well.

UAF inclusion, caring and compassion during COVID-19

Growing and embracing a culture of respect, diversity, inclusion and caring are foundational values for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and every member of the UAF community is enc​ouraged to exemplify that value. We’re all in this together and UAF will continue to be here to support a safe learning and working environment while navigating the COVID-19 crisis. 

As we navigate the rapidly changing circumstances being posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to foster and support a positive and inclusive campus climate (online and in-person).  UAF encourages compassion and understanding in these trying times by keeping in mind the following as you learn, work remotely, teach classes on-line, provide on-line programming and conduct virtual meetings.

  1. Let's all do our part to protect each other by following public health recommendations by practicing social distancing and observing CDC guidelines  as well as State of Alaska, and UA/ UAF policies

  2. World-wide incidents of bias and xenophobia have increased during the COVID-19 crisis. We should keep in mind the experiences of our fellow community members related to biases or misconceptions ignited by  COVID-19 due to nationality, race, culture or ethnicity. In this time of crisis, it is essential we lift up our commitment to the values of inclusivity within our campus. Incidents or concerns can be reported to Equity and Compliance.

  3. For many individuals, UAF is a safe and affirming place and closing our residence halls and campuses may result in individuals living or working in psychologically, emotionally or physically unsafe conditions. UAF can provide information on support and assistance no matter where you may be geographically at this time. Equity and Compliance is available for assistance and consultation, and maintains a list of confidential resources.

  4. Keep in mind that many are experiencing challenges with access to technology and time zone considerations.  This impacts their ability to get work done as well as connect by distance to classes. Many resources (e.g., community libraries, schools) have been closed. Ask your students, employees and co-workers about their ability to access computers, programs, and the internet.  Conduct your courses and meetings in an effective and inclusive manner. Discounts or special options from popular internet providers may be available.  The IT team set up wireless hotspots in designated locations at our campuses and sites that are available to anyone needing access.

  5. Please remember many students will miss milestone experiences in their educational career. Please practice patience and compassion when working with students who are grieving the loss of major parts of their collegiate experience. If you are concerned about a student, please make a report to the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities so that a member of the Student Care Team can provide support to the student. 

  6. Employees are working long hours to care for our students, move courses and programs into an on-line environment as well as navigate their personal lives. Supervisors are asked to be flexible and patient with employees through this time. If you are concerned about a fellow employee, please contact UA Human Resources or go to the UA Employee FAQ site. 

  7. UAF’s move to online learning and remote work presents challenges for some individuals with disabilities.  UAF’s eCampus can provide assistance in maximizing the accessibility of online courses. Faculty may also consult the UAF eCampus iTeachU and OCR’s Webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility resources for guidance.   Employees should be aware of the new guidance from EEOC about the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and COVID-19. Anyone needing assistance with accommodations can request assistance from or find more information at Equity and Compliance

  8. Recognize your own needs for self care, both emotional and physical. It will only make you a better instructor, supervisor, administrator, staff member and/or student. Offices such as eCampus, the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities, the Nanook Diversity and Action Center, UA Human Resources, Student Health and Counseling, Equity and Compliance, Faculty Senate, Staff Council, ASUAF and many others are poised to assist you and other members of the UAF community. There are also several resources online at UA Virtual Campus.

  9. Be creative and keep connections with each other to build community through on-line coffee hours, lunches, or events. The UA Virtual Campus has resources for connecting, and departments such as the Center for Student Engagement, Residence Life, and the Nanook Recreation Center are creating programs and events on virtual platforms. You can find a maintained list of these opportunities on Nanook Engage.  

Although we are navigating an unprecedented time of change, your strength, passion, commitment and willingness to adapt will ultimately be our strength . Through difficult times we become more innovative and create new ways of being and doing. Please continue to connect with, have compassion for and support those around you.  Moving forward together, we will open new doors, do new things and ultimately be stronger for it. 

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.