The pandemic gives us an unprecedented opportunity to “stitch a new garment” for the university, and I have seen an impressive number of tailors at work among my colleagues.

“We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment.  One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

                                                                                    -Sonya Renee Taylor

 





There is a palpable yearning among my friends and colleagues – not to mention among my family members – to “get back to normal.”  They miss incidental contact and conversations with one another, the comfort of the rhythm of the academic calendar, and being on campus together.  I miss all of these things, too.

But I do not want to get back to normal.

The university is a medieval institution and much of its authority emanates from its conservative nature.  Universities are slow to change, partly because they are such complex organizations and partly because the patterns and norms they have developed over the last half millennia are deeply embedded in hearts and minds of the faculty, staff, and administrators who operate them.  Its ancient origins are visible in its faculty members’ gowns and the crenellations on top of its buildings, and they are invisible but just as present in policies and norms that do not always reflect twenty-first century values.

The pandemic gives us an unprecedented opportunity to “stitch a new garment” for the university, and I have seen an impressive number of tailors at work among my colleagues.  There is now emerging a vision for a post-pandemic MSU that is an even more powerful engine for good.  The pandemic has stripped away our capacity to perpetuate some of our habits and policies and, in doing so, it has liberated us from some things that our conservative nature has preserved.  The most obvious have been MSU’s reticence to integrate online and in-person education or use remote work tools to allow our faculty, staff, and administrators to better balance the competing demands and opportunities in their lives.  Both have yielded to the realities of operating the university during a pandemic, and I have no interest in seeing them return.

The threads of MSU’s new garment must include new ways of teaching, a new acknowledgement of our responsibilities to one another, and an ongoing examination of the policies and practices that discriminate against certain community members.  Perhaps most important – and certainly reflective of our conservative nature – our new garment must be lined with a recommitment to our land grant values of access, equity, and opportunity.


Feedback and suggestions, especially from the MSU community, welcome: email largent@msu.edu.

Mark Largent is the Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Michigan State University.