First in a series on the reopening of West Texas A&M University in the midst of COVID-19.
In the coming weeks, I will address a number of issues regarding our return to campus—things such as residential life, classroom and community gatherings, scheduling of classes, flexibility required in a changing environment, intercollegiate athletics and why we believe staying open is important.
In listening to newscasts, prognosticators, public health officials and legislative bodies, reading the AAUP essay, “Professors: Protecting lives, promoting education and principles for reopening campus,” and many others’ views on the impact of COVID-19, it appears that there may be a coming fall, rather than an autumn, at the start of school.
We should look forward to a coming autumn, influenced by factors unknown only six months ago. An autumn not plunged into a dark abyss of fear and trepidation, but focused on the opportunity to tutor and guide students, to study and generate ideas through scholarly and creative work and a passion for serving the diverse communities that universities are charged to nurture. This is not a Pollyanna-ish longing for days of old. They are gone forever. No news in this: It was true last year and the year before that, and the year before that, ad nauseum. The past is past. We must learn, focus and progress to something better.
At the end of May, I polled University leaders, faculty, staff and students asking what they thought the responsibilities of their respective constituencies were as the campus reopened. For full text, see Individual Responsibility and COVID-19, located on the WT COVID-19 information webpage (wtamu.edu/coronavirus).
Two things occurred in this process. First, everyone seemed to appreciate the opportunity to participate in defining a shared view. Universally, people seem to appreciate reflecting and responding to the questions regarding personal and public responsibility in these challenging times.
I suggested that “Circumstances require all to reflect on fundamental notions of public and private responsibility, corporate citizenship, reminiscent of Tocqueville’s precarious balance of personal liberty and good citizenship. However, nothing that has happened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic diminishes the burden of self-determination and personal responsibility.” Community bonding in times of achievement, strife or tragedy may help emphasize this simple fact: What is important for one is important for all.
What has been, is and will forever be important for all, is this simple and inarguable postulate endorsed by over 140 world religions, made known to me personally in the Gospel of Luke 6:31, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Nearly every person and world religious group, from Agnosticism to Zoroastrianism, knows “The Golden Rule” as the reciprocity dictum.
Universities best remember this injunction always, but particularly now, given the uncertainties of the times, the suffering of so many and the lack of future clarity. The concept is critically important in effectively working with each other on campus and for our students, their families and the extended communities we serve.
How do we assist the campus in sharing the power of personal responsibility as we return in the autumn? How should we behave toward our students? Or they to us? In essence, we owe each and all full exercise of the Golden Rule. Now and always. That’s not paternalism or being overly protective, but human decency.
Administrative perspective reinforced WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World and its primary underlying presupposition, the “Duty of Citizenship”—encouraging and sustaining individual responsibility to the region, the state and the country.
Faculty stated the following: “As the student-faculty relationship remains at the core of the institution, we must together in that partnership practice the behaviors that will allow the maximization of our physical, intellectual, and emotional health.”
Staff recognized their crucial role in campus culture: “Just as our leaders were proactive in protecting students, staff, and faculty to ensure our health and safety, we must reciprocate by showing the same commitment to our students, fellow staff, and the community by taking all required measures seriously and responsibly.”
Students communicated clearly: “The West Texas A&M University Student Government will demonstrate an example of selfless and noble citizenship by ensuring the safety of self and others while allowing students to maintain civil liberties and freedom.”
I am humbled and proud of West Texas A&M University. Administration, faculty, staff and students were engaged in generating a future view guided by selflessness and welcoming to all. To the best of our collective abilities, we will live the Golden Rule in everything that we do and say, and we will treat all with dignity and respect. Fears, trepidations, concerns and emotional well-being of all will become our fears, trepidations, concerns and emotional well-being. We will be responsive to the leadership of the nation, state, our local communities and The Texas A&M University System.
For me, this means we will not fear the future but find strength in working together to overcome current challenges.
What lies before us is not a fall. Autumn lay ahead.
New World. New Way. Always WT.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at https://walterwendler.com/.