Looking Forward: How We Face The Future Will Define Us

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Dear UWM Faculty and Staff,

As a change in my messaging—at least temporarily—I shift gears from updates on relatively immediate decisions to a more reflective stance. Looking ahead isn’t easy, with the many issues that are coming at a fast pace against a steady backdrop of uncertainty.

First, I convey my gratitude.

Facing the COVID-19 challenges, as I work with so many of you in service to our students, research and community, I am in deep awe. You have such a strong commitment to our mission and in support of our guiding values of care and compassion. I am grateful for so many colleagues, students and supporters, including:

  • The Panther community, alumni and friends who have reached out, providing support for those in need.
  • Students, who have been undeniably jolted out of their lives at a most important and, frankly, fragile time in life; but, with grit, have already started to adjust and make new ways through.
  • Faculty, Instructional Staff, and our Research and Teaching Assistants: How else would we have achieved Carnegie R1 and Engaged University status, without scholars and faculty who have found ways to flip to on-line and alternative instruction with such fortitude and courage.
  • Staff who have about broken their backs with hard work, late hours and amazing accomplishments for our students and faculty, helping each other with IT, facilities, HR, financial, police and security, and countless other duties and responsibilities.
  • Leadership team: senior administrators, deans, chairs—working late into the night, early each day, resolving countless hundreds of issues, with each decision leading to many other questions, spidering into different uncharted directions.
  • Police, fire, EMS, emergency management and healthcare providers who have a heavy lift that is likely to get heavier in the coming weeks.

Second, a call for continued thoughtfulness.

This is a time for great understanding and compassion—we don’t have a playbook and there are many ways to approach situations, all of which seem right from any particular view, but are hard to reconcile from all sides at once. I seek your continued patience and trust, with you knowing that we operate grounded by our guiding values and the maxim of what is best for our students, faculty, staff, and UWM. Each day, we experience agonizing decision-making – sometimes by the hour –  much will never be known about the relentless efforts occurring behind the scenes  in support of  our mission. Of course, given the crisis, it has been difficult to maintain engagement with as many as usual when decisions are needed immediately or sooner. I beg for your forbearance and recognition of the need for speed, please. As our colleague Sandra Mclellan noted from the World Health Organization’s advice, make decisions quickly, and re-consider and second guess later.  Once we have greater understanding of the timeline (i.e., when the COVID-19 curve has flattened) and can get ahead of immediate issues, we will find more of a rhythm and engage all in our accustomed ways.

Third, reflections, looking ahead.

As we live and work in the greatest and most sudden challenge that society and higher ed have faced in our lives, I offer three suggestions:

Self-care and care for others

It’s vitally important for self-care right now. If we don’t have a strong foundation of health, we won’t weather this well. I’m hoping that these aren’t simply words on paper—or in digital view, but rather that you find a way to internalize and act on them. There is much at stake.

Please find that balance for family and friends—and yourself—and for those left behind that we might not be as mindful of in this exceedingly stressful time.

Reaching out, making personal calls and using our Teams meeting function can help with the socialization that is important to our existence.

What is really important; how to create the future we want

So much of our work and lives is what can be described as ‘head down:’ the next test, the next paper written, the last accomplishment for our annual self-reviews and CVs. Yet, the sudden alteration in our routines might represent a silver lining to this crisis. In 1982, when Alan Meyer was an Assistant Professor in the Management area of our Lubar School of Business, he wrote a paper that became a classic, titled ‘Adapting to Environmental Jolts’. He noted that, “Although abrupt changes in environments are commonly thought to jeopardize organizations, environmental jolts are found to be ambiguous events that offer propitious opportunities for organizational learning, administrative drama, and introducing unrelated changes”.

In that context, it seems to me that we could use the COVID-19 jolt to stand back, re-frame and ask over the next few weeks and months questions such as:
How might we better achieve our goals of access, reduce equity gaps, and solve the thorniest of societal and scientific questions? How can we realize better outcomes for larger purposes, how to engage and bring those along who have been left behind, and care for those around us?

Along these lines, one of our notable alumni, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, wrote a book on the concept of Refresh—and I think he would advocate for using this time to redefine our main objectives and larger central purpose. These are mighty big questions. I also think about UWM’s Peck School of the Arts’ Anne Basting’s work on TimeSlips–reflecting on memories that define one’s identity—and ask you to think about how you, too, can help connect with our students, a generation that has been called the loneliest generation: How, in an era of great digital connectivity has this occurred, and what might we do to cultivate a culture of care and belonging?

Pondering such questions and committing ourselves to different goals and course of actions could be one of the better outcomes of an ambiguous and unsettling time.

More courage, less fear

You’ve probably seen the canine-friendly bumper sticker: More wag, less bark. This adage makes me think about re-framing things. In times like this, it’s normal to experience fear—the dread of uncertainty that pervades some aspects of our existence. There is good reason to be concerned, but to put things in perspective, we live in historically rich and fortunate times in a comparatively safe society. All one has to do is to think back to the dark days of fear in the cold war, the terrors of WWII or the dark days of the Great Depression to know how fortunate we are today.

Looking ahead, while we really don’t know the trajectory of COVID-19, we can see the positive effects and flattening of the curve in some regions of the world. While things will almost certainly be worse before the curve flattens, we will get through this, and the large majority of people will survive and prosper.

Certainly, fear has a place, but to be paralyzed or immobilized is out of place. Instead, I submit that the courage to move ahead, make change and persist in our efforts—that’s the grit and determination that defines UWM and our Panther Nation. In “the K”—our Klotsche Center—there is a poster that states, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.” Well, if that’s true, I imagine we will all be changed. The positives to refresh and re-set in ways from which we can grow are up to us. I’d ask each of you to contemplate and think about ways in which we can enrich our own spheres.

Let me close with my thanks and appreciation, again, for all that you are doing. When we get to the other side of this challenging time, the things we might have taken for granted will be seen quite differently.

I will continue to give updates, communicating to the best of my and our team’s abilities. I know we have many challenges ahead, and I also know that, with you, we have the best people working toward a better future. Thanks for your continued hard work, optimism and passion for all things

Best regards,

Mark A. Mone
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee