Title

A Sprint and a Marathon

Introducing a new blog, in which a college president ventures back to the classroom.

July 6, 2020
 
 

It is early June, and I am behind -- many weeks behind in getting my online materials ready for a “mostly remote and a little bit face-to-face” class in the fall. I had already postponed filming my video for Module 7 three times. And four more modules to go!

Guilt pierced my conscience each time I moved the Outlook calendar appointment with my presidential intern and instructional design specialist. (“Apologies, I’m not ready!”) Doubt clouded my mind each time I looked at my schedule and realized I never should have committed to teaching a class. (Running Utah Valley University, the largest public university in the state of Utah, is a full-time job!)

There is no way out but through -- powering up through a late night, rushing my meetings in the morning, editing through lunch and getting the last sentence in my script at 3:25 p.m. I am ready to film at 3:30. “Welcome back to Principles of Leadership!” The narrative flows fairly well. Sometimes my voice breaks, like I’m struggling with the travails of an adolescent male’s vocal cords. But it’s just fatigue. Nothing a sip of water and a couple of deep breaths can’t fix. At 5 p.m., both my intern and the instructional design specialist say, “Done. Sounded great. This is our favorite yet of all the modules you’ve recorded. Everything is really coming together.” I had started my preparations for this class in September 2019. The first modules will be taught in August 2020. Done with a sprint today. But the actual completion of all my modules and teaching for a semester is still a marathon I must run.

Two and a half hours later, I am in front of the Provo City Police Department for a candlelight vigil. A thousand people come. On the back of a white pickup truck, a large banner waves: Black Lives Matter. Student organizers from UVU and neighboring Brigham Young University, dressed in black shirts, are greeting people, distributing candles, handing out water. Something impatient is in the air. Student leaders condemn the scourge of racism and police brutality. They plead for unified allies to bring about change.

The chief of police follows. He had helped the students get their permits for this assembly. He says, “We want to retire without a tarnish on our badge.” The mayor speaks: “I see babies in this crowd. Let us remember that this is for them also … I don’t care where you’re from, what you look like … I want you to feel welcome here. You’re all welcome in the city of Provo as long as I’m the mayor.” We light our candles. Artist Alex Boyé sings a song to commemorate the lives of those who died too soon from police brutality.

Now it is late June. Over the course of the month, the university publishes a statement on the killing of George Floyd and the need to combat racism. We share resources for education. We decide to hire a full-time director for our African Diaspora Initiative. We speak to students. We celebrate Juneteenth. We finish the fourth open community conversation in a series on race and racism. We provide a few answers but mostly listen. Somebody says in the dialogue online chat, “I am so T-I-R-E-D.” We speak with our police academy and criminal justice department colleagues, asking how they will train our students and future police officers better -- and what community members can do to help.

The class I will teach in the fall is called Principles of Leadership. What does it mean to lead at this time?

It means to sprint -- make statements, connect with individuals and groups, organize a rally, scrape up funds to strengthen our inclusion team when finances have been cut due to COVID-19, show up for uncomfortable conversations, take notes, think hard, read up a storm, define critical actions.

It also means pacing ourselves for a marathon. Antiracism does not happen in a moment, but it is possible only through difficult, systematic and sustained work.

Leadership in higher education today means running short and long distances. At UVU, our work is to think clearly and map the steps forward. We will iterate because we will get some things wrong at first. We will hurt and offend one another. (“Baby, you are the institutional racism,” someone says on my Instagram.) But honest conversations and genuine efforts must continue. We will measure progress. We will remind ourselves that antiracism is the work of us all: students, scholars, activists, department chairs, deans, senior administrators, Faculty Senate members, staff and professors. There is no magic bullet. We cannot afford to be T-I-R-E-D. I suddenly realize how excited I am to be teaching in August.

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