Covid-19 and the 'New Normal'

Surreal. That is how I have been describing the last week. As I watched the virus spread from Wuhan, China to other parts of Asia, then the Middle East, then Europe. One news story at a time, eclipsing the last. First the human cost, then the economic cost. It then reached the spread of a pandemic.

At first, the US was behind the curve in recognizing Covid-19’s severity. The decisions that were being made were based on emotion, not data. We didn’t have the data; we did not (and still do not) know the number of infections throughout the country. We are only testing those who show symptoms, and in these cases, the tests have only recently become available and there are still not enough. We are not testing the general public, those who may be carrying the virus unknowingly, and infecting others. That is where we are at today nationally.

Locally, decisions are being made based on the data that is available. In Florida, bars and clubs are closed for the next 30 days, no gatherings of more than 10 people, and reduced restaurant capacity have all been mandated under the State of Emergency that was ordered by the Governor, and the Mayors. Social distancing is the new buzz phrase. Getting the information out to residents without getting too much into the weeds is a bit more challenging. I am using social media, but limiting my use of Constant Contact for now. I sent out an initial newsletter, and depending on how the situation changes, I may send another next week. In the meantime, social media will be my main communication platforms.

Then there is work. The Governor asked the University Board of Governors, the body that oversees Florida’s public university system, to transition all classes for the rest of the semester to an online format. Students are encouraged to stay home. For some of us, this is a doable transition – a lot of work, but doable. For others – those who teach labs, sculpture, etc. – it is much more challenging. I am interested in learning about the methods they use during this time.

I will/have been spending spring break transitioning classes to the online format. This involves recording lectures, getting discussion boards ready for each topic, and quizzes – at least for my undergraduate class. One of my graduate classes is the introductory seminar for the Masters of Public Administration (MPA) program. I have decided to make this a synchronous class, so we will be meeting live every week to discuss the readings, which lays the foundation for the field, and how to apply them to our current environment. It will be interesting considering the remaining topics are Human Resource Management, Evaluation, Budgeting, and Public Management: the tactics that public administrator use in performing their jobs.

This is the visual I use at the beginning of every class to put the week’s topic into the course’s larger context. I have found a visual helps students categorize what they are learning in the bigger picture. For this course, I use concentric circles to denote the influence each topic has on the administrator’s day to day decision-making process, with the public administrator being at the center of the circles. There are many way to go about teaching this class (or any other class), but I have found this to be the most effective for me. I am looking forward to our first virtual class next week; I think it will be lively.

As for the administrative/service portion of my job, it’s a bit clunky right now. My department’s search committee for a new hire for an Assistant Professor position has been postponed until the fall. Faculty Association leadership is still trying to decide on how to hold virtual Faculty Association Executive Committee meetings in order to be inline with the by-laws, as well as the monthly all-faculty meeting. As chair of the Campus Technology Committee, I need to design a survey and record a video to get feedback on faculty needs during this time. Since it is spring break, I figure I will wait until the end-ish of the week. Still, there is much to do!

At the end of the day, my goal is to have an informed public (city responsibilities), a faculty body (work responsibilities) who have the tools they need to get through this unique moment in time, and students (work again) who are ready to take on the world and be productive members of society – producing both economic and social value.

If we could all remember to pause, take a deep breadth, and think about the needs of our community (home and work), then we can get through this one day at a time. We are doing the best we can with the information we have. Just breath.

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