Message from the Provost
- Tuesday, September 7th, 2021
In March of 2020, the Western Kentucky University class of 2023 were first-year students in residence on the Hilltop campus, following a relatively “normal” senior year of high school. Their first year of college quickly shifted to remote learning after 6.5 months. They arrive this year still relatively new to the campus.
The class of 2024 experienced their first year at WKU (Academic 2020-21) mostly away from the campus, commonly after a disrupted high school senior year of missed proms and traditional graduation ceremonies. They have arrived largely new to the WKU campus.
The class of 2025 arrived two weeks ago completely new to the campus, many after a senior year of high school with remote instruction, few high school proms, and few traditional high school graduations.
Universities are accustomed to annual renewal of the community with new members. Quite routinely one-quarter of the undergraduates will be new to campus. However, this fall the big difference is many more undergraduates are new to the WKU campus.
New members need a welcoming that’s somewhat different from those who have a year “under their belt.” They don’t know how to navigate campus, even with signage. They don’t know where rooms are located within buildings. They don’t know where Cherry Hall, Snell Hall, or South Campus are located. They don’t know all the cut-throughs and quickest paths across campus. They don’t know the hours of operations of various offices, the library, and dining facilities. They need to learn the norms and unwritten rules of behavior within the WKU culture.
Due to the pandemic and all the challenges associated with it, most WKU faculty and staff members haven’t spent much time on campus since March 2020. As a result, some of us may be a little rusty with in-person work culture. While the use of Zoom and other platforms helped keep us connected for the past eighteen months, most of us have concluded that Zoom’s efficiency for “business” communication is not present in matters of social cohesion. We must now focus on rebuilding and renewing relationships.
Coming back together in an office, masked, is both wonderful and awful. On the one hand, in-person interaction seems more open to non-business topics, which are central to renewing relationships. We’ve missed being with one another and a deliberate attempt to rebuild social bonds helps us all. We might adapt to this new in-person masked environment better if we take some time to commiserate with our colleagues, especially those who have different life circumstances than we do.
On the other hand, we all feel some anxiety at renewing relationships, despite the fact that we’re all masked while on campus. Things have changed and people have been affected in ways they sometimes don’t perceive in themselves. Effective teams require mutual trust; trust takes effort to build and requires empathy and shared information — we should recognize the challenges that faculty and staff across the divisions are facing and show each other as much grace as we can. We should make time to build trust to achieve mutual understanding to serve our students even better during these unusual times.
Likewise, as faculty and staff are renewing our own bonds, let us not forget we are also earning the trust of our students. Let’s be mindful and purposeful in helping our larger-than-normal group of new students navigate their way around this place we call home. It might even remind us of why we chose to be members of this community.
Robert "Bud" Fischer
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs