Updated: Sep 13, 2020
A differentiator in the coming months and years will be how much and how quickly universities learn to listen and lead with empathy in their engagement. They might need people trained to listen as well as profess.
One concept that, appears needed more than ever right now, in all of our personal lives, in our relationships, and in our leadership, is empathy. The ability to put ourselves in other’s shoes and understand their needs. The ability to go beyond the Golden Rule of Leviticus, to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. This might have worked in biblical times but seems very ill-suited to 2020, and particularly inappropriate to a university looking to re-engage with partners, alumni, schools, communities, government, industry and prospective donors. They are all different and want to be done unto in a way that suits their needs, not ours.
An empathetic engaged civic university is now needed more than ever. We should accelerate its development at the same pace that we rush for digital solutions, micro-credentials and new academic and professional staff structures, in any campuses we return to.
The world has changed. Our staff and students will never engage with us in the same way again. Our partners in industry, government and communities, and alumni, will look for connections with us through graduates in new ways. Research and professional development needs will have new priorities concerned with mental health, vaccine development, long-term social distancing practices, and business recovery, and will need new modes of engagement. We could try doing all this the way we always have, or in ways that we prefer. But surely now is the time to listen. To listen and lead through the new empathetically engaged university.
I imagine just about every university strategy will be being dusted off right now and looked at in fresh eyes, once its leaders can draw breath from the enormous pressures of the last 5 months. Many will be getting an injection of pace into the sections on digital and online learning and rationalisation of courses, academic structures and financial, human resource and facility support systems. There will be re-appraisals of growth of student numbers and income for sure. They will need to perceive of a different size and shape to be fit for the different futures created for them. But how many will see the opportunity to combine a different size and shape, with a different flavour and culture?
A differentiator in the coming months and years will be how much and how quickly universities learn to listen and lead with empathy in their engagement. They might need people trained to listen as well as profess. The need to listen has never been greater. The fruits to be gained from doing so have never been more needed by universities, governments and the communities we serve.