Sunday, August 30, 2020

We're Not Pivoting -- We're In Rolling Motion

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All over the country universities are experiencing tough times. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, many campuses are experiencing budget crises, and the next few months may prove to be one of the most challenging political periods in our history. If we had only one of these problems, we would be in what many would call unprecedented times. 

In moments like this, I think it is worth considering our past. When my university, Northern Illinois University (NIU), graduated its first class of 16 students in 1900, I don’t think anyone back then could have imagined what we would be facing in 2020. 

Or could they?


About this time, American society was recovering from the Civil War, coming to terms with the Massacre at Wounded Knee, and dealing with great technological advances in transportation with the advent of the automobile and airplanes. Americans were coming out of the depression of the 1890s that left many destitute due to the lack of a governmental safety net. Books like The War of the Worlds  and The Picture of Dorian Gray were published that reflected a certain amount of social angst.


If we fast forward to the 1910's, we continue to see challenges. NIU saw significant enrollment declines due to World War I and classes were suspended on campus during October of 1918 due to the influenza epidemic of the era. NIU President Cook, writing during this time, said, “When we shall begin again is a matter for the future to decide. There is nothing that seems of consequence right now but the war and the epidemic.”


During 1918, whole families died from the flu. Around the world, the war and the pandemic were not the only issues. This was the year when the Russian royal family was assassinated within the sweeping events of the Russian Revolution, and a few short months before Zapata was killed near the culmination of the complex Mexican Revolution. These were very difficult times.


I could go through a range of changes and challenges that NIU and other universities faced since 1918:  The Great Depression, World War II, The Vietnam War, civil unrest in the 1960’s. During each of these moments, universities evolved and changed with the times.


I have no doubt that American universities will continue to be vibrant institutions on into the future. However, as history shows us, universities rose to the challenges they faced. As we look toward the next decade, we have to ask ourselves how universities will change with our times. 

I joke with my colleagues that the word of the year is "pivot". It seems like we pivoted to online course delivery back in the spring semester and around the country we are pivoting to a blended delivery system this semester with the expectation that we should be able to pivot to whatever the situation demands in the future. Over the last few weeks, I have added the word pivot to my administrative bingo sheet along with words and phrases like biggest bang for the buck, paradigm shift, leverage, put a pin in it, and my favorite, it is what it is.


But the term pivot implies that you are basically just circling a central point. Pivoting means that the basic conditions don’t change as you circle that central point.


In our current era, the term pivot isn’t really accurate. We are actually going through rolling motion. We are rotating around a central point which is itself going through motion. What matters in this rolling motion is that there needs to be intention of direction. Certainly we have outside forces like COVID and our national economy influencing our direction. However, we give up our own power of intention if we are only reactive to the changes impacting our direction.


We have the opportunity in higher education to make decisions over the next few years to direct us in a path of our choosing. Certainly we will have to deal with the momentum of our times—the issues of budget, COVID, and others. But we have choices in this unusual situation.


As we start to think what the fall of 2021 looks like when we start to emerge from a post COVID world (hopefully), we should do so with intentionality. At all levels of higher education, we need to think about what we want to be and how we want to get there. We need to put our own spin on things so that we don’t pivot in a single spot. We need to design our own forward motion.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

George Washington Birthplace National Monument

Today I continue my series on all 129 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured monument is George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Virginia. This is not one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

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Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments

Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Booker T. Washington National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
California Coastal National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
Castillo de San Marco National Monument
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Mountains National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument
César E. Chávez National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument
Colorado National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort McHenry National Monument
Fort Monroe National Monument
Fort Ord National Monument
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Fort Stanwix National Monument