August 12, 2021 New Student Orientation / Photo by Kevin Fowler
Below is a transcript of remarks I made at the December 10, 2021 Lansing Community College All-Employee meeting. My speech uses themes developed by the student voices in this 30-second video created by Layne Ingram and Dave Wasinger. During the meeting, I played the video prior to delivering my remarks; I also played it another time after I concluded.
Thank you so much Dr. Samuel and, special thanks to Layne Ingram and the best media team in higher ed for that amazing video.
I want to tell you a little bit about that video. Lane and the team assembled that 30-second video for an initiative with the Higher Learning Commission. There was a call for all the colleges in the 19-state region* of HLC to submit a video like that about what our colleges do for our community, and I find ours so moving. I’m going to include some of these student voices and themes into my remarks, and when I’m done I’d like us to watch the short video one more time.
I have a number of things I’d like to share about where we are here at the end of 2021 and where we are going in 2022. I want to thank Dr. Welch for celebrating our collective accomplishments. It is very important for us to celebrate our achievements. I was very inspired by all the amazing things you all have done over the past year. I also want to thank Dr. Samuel for reviewing our path forward with strategic planning. The “Just Do It” and Tri-Lead team activity has me very excited for the coming year.
The first thing I want to share with everyone is that we all realize this pandemic is not over. The COVID-19 numbers in Michigan continue to cause real concern, and the uncertainty that’s raised by the omicron variant that we see rising up is something that’s very much on our minds. And while our protocols have allowed us to safely resume most of our face-to-face activity, we’ve needed to adapt and change. I especially want to thank everyone for observing our temporary food and drink protocols. I know this is a time for potlucks and holiday parties and it’s disappointing when we can’t take our masks off and enjoy food and drink together but this is what we need to do to stay safe.
Because of the changing landscape we continue to need to be agile and adaptive in order to keep one another safe. So as we move forward in 2022, you won’t hear me using phrases like “post pandemic” or “new normal” because this is where we are. This is what we have to deal with. The pandemic requires that we find a way to achieve our mission in the here and now with the facts on the ground. And we also cannot wait until some future point, kicking the can down the road to plan how we respond to this ongoing situation.
Another point I’d like to make about the pandemic is that many of our LCC people have been here the entire time. I know you know this, but it’s important to recognize that many of us never left our campus locations. People have been doing their work on site through the entire pandemic, and I’m thinking of payroll and public safety the president’s office. Facilities, tech careers, health programs, faculty, staff… We’ve been here. And that’s because here at LCC, we build a shared culture. Just like our students say in the video: we build a place that’s filled with opportunity for everyone. That’s the responsibility of each one of us.
I’d like to share a couple of recent in-person experiences I have had with our work. I recently had the wonderful honor to be a class speaker. One of our great professors asked me to speak to her honors section, and it was very much the way you would expect things to happen in the middle of a pandemic. Some of the students were in person. They were sitting far apart with masks. The professor was there in person. I was there in person. But about a third of the class was joining remotely through WebEx, and we had a great class session. I really enjoyed it. I very much appreciated that invitation to speak to the students. When the class was over, the professor and several students and I lingered together, just like I have done hundreds of times after class. We talked about how great it was that we were still able to come together. How important it was for us to share the same space and interact with each other. This week, I gathered with a small group of colleagues in Student Services. We met safely, socially distanced and wearing masks in a conference room. Our informal conversation was one of the most engaging I have had recently, and for most of the time we talked about how good it was to connect with one another in person. To see one another. We talked about how we have adapted to meeting with each other and with students remotely, but we mostly talked about how much we really need and want to be physically present for the important work we all do.
Since August, I’ve been having a lot of interactions like these across our campuses.
This leads me to a very important idea that I want to share with our college for 2022. One of our main challenges going into next year is to balance an innovative future of work, where we adapt and change our work schedules, with our very real need to have robust face-to-face instruction and service. So balancing our need to change and be adaptive with remote work on the one hand, with what we need to do for our students in person on the other.
Now the entire world–every employer organization—is grappling with this issue of the future of work, and we need to think differently. We need to innovate. We need to be flexible in order to keep our best people here, and to continue to attract new talent to LCC.
But I also think it’s very important to realize that our ability to flex and change in this regard is not infinite. Our core mission continues to involve the delivery of in-person instruction and service, and building an open inclusive culture that’s welcoming to our students and our community is everyone’s responsibility at LCC. During my 30 years in community colleges, this is what I’ve witnessed at every community college: Community college people doing things like walking lost students to the office they’re looking for, helping community members get registered for classes, hosting community events that allow people to envision their future and see themselves here as college students. Even picking up little pieces of trash in the on the sidewalk or in the parking lot, or keeping a watchful eye over one another. This is community work. It’s shared work. It’s important work, and it is all of our responsibility.
Now it doesn’t require that every single LCC employee is on site for every single hour of every single work day, but it does require that we have a critical mass of physical presence… and that responsibility doesn’t belong to just some of us. It belongs to all of us.
We cannot be motivated by fear, but we do not want to cause or accelerate a downward spiral in enrollment where students don’t come because we’re not here, and then we’re not here because the students don’t come. We must have a robust, in-person experience here.
So to that end today we’re going to be announcing two broad categories of work at LCC. We need to safely increase our on-campus presence.
Well, it’s because our mission and position as an anchor institution here in Mid-Michigan requires a robust physical presence. Our students and our community need us. In fact, the students who need us the most have the greatest need for in-person activity. I’ve asked our team to create guidelines for a more robust on-site presence for instruction and service. We are sharing this today, and includes it two major categories: Primary Remote, and Primary Face-To-Face. As we prioritize the humanity of our students, our employees, and our college neighbors, we need to support equity, inclusion, mental and physical well-being and wellness. Because we’re a community. We support the needs of one another.
So in keeping with our mission, we understand the diverse students we serve cannot learn in equity without robust campus experiences in academics and student support. And we’re committed to continuing to embrace our role of service to one another and to this community. So those details will be shared today, and we have plenty of time for questions and answers.
The video I showed ends with a question: “Who are we?”
Shortly after I arrived in 2020, I shared my vision for our future. I said specifically—and this is a quote from from my very first address—that my vision for LCC is that we prepare to help our region recover from the economic disruption caused by the pandemic. I was thinking a year and a half, or two years out. And guess what? We’re there right now. Our deep involvement in workforce training and regional economic development and affordable pathways to university transfer are absolutely crucial for the communities we serve as they recover. And many of those communities are communities we become disconnected with during the pandemic. Our community needs us more than ever. I said that we would need to be ready to help our students and the regional economy recover from this historical impact.
I shared the line from our vision statement “serving the needs of a changing community.” Well, our community really is changing dramatically, and not all of those changes have been good.
I said the great responsibility of being needed is ours. And as we move through this phase of the public health crisis, Greater Lansing needs us right now. I said we need to stay healthy and be prepared and be physically present to meet those needs. I believe this more now than I did even when I said back in August of 2020.
We’ve seen how the effects of COVID-19 impact different groups in different ways. We’ve witnessed shocking and unacceptable disparities and health and economic incomes. The pandemic has highlighted numerous equity issues in our society, and we need to be here to part of the solution to those problems. Unlike the way we entered this pandemic reality, we know that individuals won’t emerge from COVID the same way and on the same time table. For this reason, it’s really important for us to continue with this “people first” approach we have to the pandemic, affording one another grace and understanding. As we move through this next phase, remember that when we say “people first,” our community members are people. Our students are people. Just like we’re people.
Many of you have heard me say this several times since I’ve been here: The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently changed LCC. It has changed us forever. But it has not changed us into the University of Phoenix. Place is and will continue to be an important part of our identity as a college. Community is built right into our name. “Lansing” is our first name, and “community” is our middle name. It sounds corny, but it’s absolutely true. We are a regional anchor institution, and it matters that we’re located in Lansing, Michigan. Community and our response to teaching, learning, and community development is crucial to the hopes and needs of the people we serve. And I really believe this: as an anchor institution, we have an important responsibility to be present and to help our community reconnect with their teaching and learning goals. In the time since we resumed face-to-face student services, I’ve had the pleasure of helping students find their way to the StarZone, and have all kinds of in-person interactions safely with our students. I feel safe coming to work.
Today my biggest message, I think, is that as LCC we are more than the sum of our parts. The whole of our college is more than our individual contributions. And I say this about my role, and about your role. Our roles at LCC are bigger than the tasks we accomplish every day, every week, or every month. You are not your to-do list. I am not my to-do list. We each contribute something extra. Something more. And I’m not talking about “other duties as assigned,” or asking people to do things that are not in their job descriptions. I’m asking us all to do what we were called to do: to be here for our students. Just like our students say in the video: they are all here for a reason, and that reason is slightly different for all of us. We do have something in common. What we have in common is this amazing place called LCC. A place that we designed to bring people together and provide opportunities for everyone.
So that’s who we are.
With that I would love to show our video again, because I think it’s a great set of bookends for the message I want to share with everyone. And after the video, we have reserved plenty of time for questions, answers, and dialogue.
* = As Mark Kelland correctly pointed out to me after the meeting, HLC is no longer only a 19-State Regional accrediting body. While it’s still the primary regional accreditor for Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming., they now accept membership from all over the US.