As universities consider whether to open campuses this fall, IHS President Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright is advising higher ed leaders to heed lessons from Hurricane Katrina. In a column in Forbes, Dr. Chamlee-Wright writes:
When I studied community recovery following Hurricane Katrina, the most common refrain was, ‘it’s all so damn uncertain.’ Then, community leaders were facing uncertainty about whether neighbors, customers, businesses, and students would return. Now community leaders are facing the uncertainties of when the pandemic will subside, and once it does, whether it will return once social distancing measures are relaxed.– Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright, IHS President and CEO
The task for higher ed leaders is to commit as soon as possible to a plan for the fall—whether the plan includes all-remote learning, a hybrid of online and in-person, and/or incorporating social distancing measures into campus life. By committing to a plan, higher ed leaders can help their communities confront uncertainty and spark recovery.
Dr. Chamlee-Wright draws on the example set by James Ray Cox, a Waveland, Mississippi Walmart Supercenter manager. After Katrina destroyed Waveland homes and businesses in August 2005, Cox reopened a makeshift version of the store under a tent in the parking lot. Then he pulled his team together and spent two months working around the clock to reopen the Walmart completely.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents higher ed leaders with a challenge not unlike the one Cox encountered. Cox understood that by rebuilding Walmart as swiftly as possible, he significantly reduced the uncertainties faced by residents and small business owners… Higher ed leaders shouldn’t wait for certainty to emerge. They should be creating it—for students and their families, and for the faculty and staff who need to be part of the solution—first by committing to the fall, and then asking themselves, ‘how do we make it happen?– Dr. Emily Chamlee-Wright, IHS President and CEO