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Lessons learned during the pandemic

Published September 16, 2021

The current pandemic seems to offer little in the way of silver linings.  It’s been a health, economic, and social disaster for hundreds of thousands of people, and it’s been made even more unbearable by the simultaneous reckoning around racial injustice.  What it has allowed for, however, is a chance to learn new skills and, perhaps, new things about ourselves.

Speaking for myself, I’ve experienced a heightened level of humility in the face of the virus, and I think my tolerance for ambiguity is at an all-time, if uncomfortable, extreme.  I’ve learned that sharing what I don’t know may be as important as sharing what I do know.  Weighted as they are by grief, worry, and unease, the last 20 months have passed with interminable slowness, in a manner that feels akin to “dog years” to me.   I’ve also learned more Greek letters than I knew before, delta, lambda, iota, mu!  I hope I can stop that particular accumulation of factoids.  How about you?  Any pandemic learnings?

At the university level, we’re certainly more technologically sophisticated today than 20 months ago.  Our teaching practices, business processes, and research methods have all been affected. We have enhanced our WIFI network with solar-powered charging stations, created a new laptop and hotspot loan program to mitigate the digital divide on campus, learned how to give business phone access to staff working remotely — and so much more.

Academic Technology Services (ATS) has re-imagined how to tailor resources for colleges-centric needs; creating faculty-coaching and -mentoring models; investing in technology to enhance online and alternative modes of learning (virtual labs, adaptive learning software); aligning university policies to support online and alternative modalities (workload, faculty training/expertise, scheduling, etc.); and developing technological supports for students (training, equipment).  ATS learned how to support 97% of course work in remote contexts – up from about 3% pre-pandemic.

I think the pandemic made us a more compassionate university.  We adopted a 

new Employee Assistance Program to diversify the ranks of those who support our faculty and staff.  We’ve developed a new mental health model for students, which includes a focus on prevention and services to targeted groups. In partnership with ASI, our basic needs program, supported by general and private funding, has been maintained and expanded as have services for students with varied abilities through our Bob Murphy Access Center.  Our University Police Service now has a Community Engagement Board organized to increase communication and transparency between our campus community and the police.  With leadership from our Equity and Change Commission, we established a process to identify and support our affinity groups. We have new mentoring programs and enhanced support for our Long Beach College Promise students.  Our IT geniuses have been working aggressively on website accessibility for all.  

In the face of maximum stress and uncertainty, we became even more flexible and bold.  We have continued to work on a growth strategy aimed at educating 30,000 adult students online.  We have pursued affordable downtown housing for faculty, staff, and graduate students while completing new affordable on-campus housing for students.  We maintained our focus on sustainability in our building program, energy management, and water usage.  We’re discussing changes in faculty roles and tenure expectations, as well as a telecommuting policy that would match our goals to reimagine staff and faculty. 

We have focused on all the issues that unite us while being in a context that is quite divisive in terms of vaccination viewpoints, work locations, teaching modalities, and so on. Racial and ethnic concerns are front and center because of the violence visited upon so many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).  You will be pleased to know that our new tenure track hires are 70% BICOP.  We have instituted new equity plans across the campus, introduced a re-organized Commission on Equity and Change, and attracted private resources to support students in social justice activities

Our goal to be more inclusive and equity-focused has never been a higher priority than it is today. Deficits in representation, advancement opportunities, and other policies are all now under continuous discussion and action.  We’ve entered the leadership phase of our No Barriers philanthropic campaign focused on scholarships to make The Beach even more accessible to all students and an even better professional home for faculty and staff.  I see curricular enhancements across the campus that are bringing new cultural perspectives to enrich students’ knowledge and skills and infuse them with empathy, compassion, and systems’ understanding.

Many potential pain points remain as we live through COVID together.  Uncertainty about future COVID mutations is high on my list of concerns.  I want our vaccinations to work effectively no matter what Greek letter is attached to “variant.” I remain confident, however, in our abilities to overcome, mitigate, and flex through anything that comes our way because when we act as #OneBeach,  we are unbeatable.

If you have a minute, send me some of your plague-based learnings -- new skills, hobbies, teaching/research practices.  I am certain we’ll be a better Beach if we can build on our experiences during this unbelievable, and I hope never-to-be-repeated, time period. 

Jane Close Conoley, Ph.D.