COVID-19 Update: 2020-03-25Posted on March 25th, 2020
As we mark the halfway point through our “transition week” to alternative delivery, I wanted to create a brief video from my home workstation. Previous entries on my blog have very specific information about our remote work and COVID-19 leave provisions.
While I am making limited trips to my office, I am consciously modeling the Governor’s recommendation (and Dr. Amy Acton’s order) to Stay At Home. This has been an adjustment for me, as I am accustomed to working in my office, traveling to events and large gatherings, and having meetings with community leaders over breakfast and lunch. All of my meetings are now virtual/videoconferencing.
Below are some thoughts on Dr. Acton’s Stay At Home order, my deep gratitude for the faculty and staff working to transition to alternative delivery, and my sincere concern for the limited staff in public safety, facilities, and technology/information services who are working to keep faculty, staff and students connected remotely.
It is very easy for me to make these videos, which I produce with my phone without any script. From my perspective, more communication is better. It’s important to me to stay connected with our campus community.
About My Home Workstation
I don’t mention them in the video, but I am standing at my late father’s standing desk. It’s a 19th century clerk’s desk, and it has been perfect for working at home. Hanging on the wall are two very sentimental pictures. The watercolor elephants were among my mother’s favorite things. She received it as a gift when I was born and it hung in my nursery when I was a baby. The black and white photo was taken by my former colleague Paul Rozycki, retired political science professor at my prior college. He took the photo in 1987, and this print was a housewarming present when I moved to Flint, Michigan.
Thank you for all you are doing to as we prepare to resume alternative delivery next week.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Dr. Acton’s Stay At Home Order [2020-03-23]Posted on March 23rd, 2020
Yesterday, Dr. Amy Acton signed a “Stay At Home” order for all Ohioans. As Governor DeWine explained during the Sunday press conference, this is a formalization of what he and Dr. Acton have been asking Ohio to do already. He also specifically addressed that name for the order; some states have called these orders “Shelter In Place” or similar terms, mostly because their state laws and emergency plans use those terms. The Governor said Ohio chose “Stay At Home” for directness and simplicity. The English professor in me appreciates this clear, straightforward language.
In my all-campus e-mail, I included a link to The Ohio Channel video of the press conference from Sunday, March 22, 2020. The high traffic on that site makes the link unusable at peak times. Here is the same press conference archived on YouTube.
As we announced to all Owens Community College employees last week, if your job can be done remotely and you receive supervisor and VP approval, we encourage you to do so. The “Stay At Home” order contains some very useful information to help us with this. I have attached a PDF copy of the Stay At Home order below, and I would like to share some Owens-specific thoughts about it.
First, I want to point out the hard work and diligent thought that went into this important document. While it is only 12 pages long, the Stay At Home order contains volumes of excellent information that is meant to keep us safe and help to “flatten the curve.” I can only imagine the dozens and dozens of dedicated public servants who worked to create this document. I know from communicating with Chancellor Randy Gardner that he and his teams were working on portions of the document for the past three days. The order provides valuable guidance for us as a College, and I truly believe it will keep us safer and help us do what we need to do to respond to the COVID-19 Pandemic. I wrote to the Governor thanking him and the entire administration for working on this document and providing it to us.
Essential/Basic Minimum Operations
Section 12 of the order creates an exception for “Educational institutions” including colleges for facilitating distance learning and performing essential functions provided social distancing is maintained to the greatest extent possible. In Section 13, the order stipulates that preserving physical plant, ensuring security, processing payroll and employee benefits, as well as facilitating remote work are all defined as minimum basic operations. This will allow us to do the critical work of transitioning all of our instruction to alternative delivery, as well as to provide IT and WiFi access for student populations that do not have that access at home.
NOTE: Social distancing requirements apply to all work that happens on campus. No exceptions! If your role cannot be performed at home, the only way any Owens employee should be working on campus is by strictly conforming to Social Distancing Requirements as they are outlined in Section 15 of the order.
Office Schedule and Remote Work Provisions
In light of the new Stay At Home order, I will reprint our notification on office schedule and remote work.
The College will continue “between semester” office hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. through Monday, April 6. [Note that this date is changed from our original date of April 5 in order to align with Dr. Acton’s order.] If your job can be done remotely and you receive supervisor and VP approval, we encourage you to do so. For those employees with a role that does not allow for remote work, as determined by your supervisor, measures are being put in place to ensure that on-campus roles can be performed with health, safety, and social distancing. Teams are also encouraged to move face-to-face meetings and student interactions to phone or video conferencing when appropriate.
Additional Leave Provisions (Expanded)
Also in light of the Stay At Home order, I will reprint our previous notification on expanded leave provisions for employees impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We very proactive in adopting these leave provisions, and other colleges in Ohio have begun to use them as a model.
As previously announced, faculty or staff will be eligible to take up to 80 hours (prorated for part-time employees) of time off if they meet one of the below requirements (as approved by the supervisor and VP). This one-time leave is in addition to an employee’s current leave balances.
- To adhere to a requirement or recommendation to quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19;
- To care for yourself or an at-risk family member who is adhering to a requirement or recommendation to quarantine due to exposure to or symptoms of COVID-19; and
- To care for a child of an employee if the child’s school or place of care has been closed, or the child-care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19.
- To cover hours that are not able to be worked remotely, and on-campus presence isn’t required, during the period of March 23 – April 5. [new]
The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has also produced excellent guidance on critical infrastructure. My PDF copy of Dr. Acton’s Stay At Home order contained a March 19, 2020 document from CISA as an attachment. I will link to that document here. Specifically, it defines certain critical communications and information technology functions that are defined as “essential.”
It also speaks to community-based and government operations such as our, including: workers to ensure continuity of building functions; security staff to maintain building access control and physical security measures; educators supporting public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for the purpose of facilitating distance learning or performing other essential functions, if operating under rules for social distancing. Again, it is important to note that all on-campus rules must practice social distancing requirements.
In closing, the most important thing is the safety of our students, faculty and staff. If you have questions about any of this information, please reach out to your supervisor or Human Resources.
Please stay safe, and I will use the closing Governor DeWine has used in the few brief personal e-mails I have received from him during the crisis:
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Spring 2020 / COVID-19 Alternative DeliveryPosted on March 17th, 2020
I am writing to follow up on our recent communications regarding the Spring 2020 semester and the ongoing situation with COVID-19. These are truly extraordinary times. I am so impressed and thankful for the hard work our faculty and staff have already invested in our response to this situation. I will re-print the announcement below:
Owens Community College will transition to alternative delivery for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester. All students should receive guidance this week via e-mail concerning next steps for classes, which will resume on Monday, March 30; this is a change from the originally-scheduled resumption of classes after spring break. Students in internships, clinicals and directed practices should inquire about the status of these sessions with the academic department, as many facilities and sites have changed their procedures in response to COVID-19.
As you are aware, our initial determination was to transition to alternative delivery only through April 6, 2020. Given what we are learning from Governor DeWine, Ohio Public Health Director Dr. Amy Acton and others, this timetable will not be sufficient to keep everyone safe and respond to our need to “flatten the curve” in response to COVID-19. This means that we will need to take creative and extraordinary steps to finish the semester. To that end, we have reserved a week in the calendar to adapt to alternative delivery before we resume classes on March 30.
I realize that I have been sending a great number of messages and updates to our campus community. It is very important to us that our faculty and staff be informed of what is going on and how the college is planning to respond. To that end, below are the college office schedule and remote work provisions for staff that I sent out via e-mail yesterday.
The College will continue “between semester” office hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. through Sunday, April 5. If your job can be done remotely and you receive supervisor and VP approval, we encourage you to do so. For those employees with a role that does not allow for remote work, as determined by your supervisor, measures are being put in place to ensure that on-campus roles can be performed with health, safety, and social distancing. Teams are also encouraged to move face-to-face meetings and student interactions to phone or video conferencing when appropriate.
In our efforts to respond to this crisis, Owens has worked hard to keep students, faculty and staff informed along the way. I want to personally thank all the faculty, staff and administrators who have been working day and night to make sure we respond in the best way. This week, a few of my thoughts about this situation were picked up by Community College Daily.
Despite all the work we have accomplished so far, there is much more work to come. Between now and the resumption of classes on March 30, a great deal of creative work in alternative delivery will need to be accomplished. I want to thank everyone here at the college, especially Academic Affairs and the the OFA leadership, for immediately moving to action to make plans to respond.
Below is a 10-minute video I recorded elaborating on these messages; it does NOT contain the most pressing and updated information, which can be found on our Owens Community College COVID-19 page and the Ohio Department of Health website.
In closing, I want to acknowledge that this is a scary time. Doing what we need to do will produce stress, uncertainty, and disruption. I am confident we can do this together. I truly believe that what we are doing will make a difference and save lives. The hard work and resolve I have witnessed this past week has been genuinely inspiring. Thank you to everyone for all you are doing and will continue to do. Please stay safe, practice social distancing, and continue to wash those hands.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Update to Board of TrusteesPosted on March 13th, 2020
As we finish this whirlwind week, I thought I would share a communication I just sent to our amazing Board of Trustees. Pat Jezak, Board Secretary, has done the important work of keeping our Board informed while I was busy working with our teams to manage the events of this week.
Here at Owens, we are fortunate to have a dedicated group of Trustees who are appointed by the Governor in service to our college. Despite the challenges, this week showed what an incredible and resilient organization we have.
Friday, March 13, 2020
What a week! Before the start of the weekend, I wanted to send you a quick note to acknowledge the amazing work our teams here at Owens have done during the rapidly-evolving events surrounding Covid-19 and our response to Governor DeWine’s recommendations on higher education. I am so proud of all their hard work. It is amazing what they have accomplished in the face of great disruption this week.
As Pat Jezak informed you in real time, the Governor issued a series of recommendations on Tuesday for higher education regarding the cancellation of travel, large events, and face-to-face classes. That morning I was present for a meeting with the other community college presidents at OACC in Columbus. Governor DeWine and Chancellor Gardner joined this meeting, and their level of engagement and preparation was impressive. After his press conference, we made the immediate decision to implement the Governor’s recommendations, which were large. This is what our amazing teams have been doing this week. Spring break begins this Monday.
Not only have we followed the Governor’s guidance, we have also communicated effectively and efficiently with our students, community stakeholders, and campus community. I have been amazed at the level of positivity and flexibility among our Owens people. It has been inspirational. Great progress has been made to make alternative arrangements for most instruction; events and training that cannot go forward with the Governor’s executive order on gatherings of over 100 persons have been canceled. There is much more to do, and that work is currently underway.
Despite all the work and chaos, I was able to be with Chair Hammond in Findlay when she filled in for First Lady Fran DeWine at the Hancock County Imagination Library fundraiser at the University of Findlay. Please know that we continue to keep the college moving forward in the face of this disruption. She did an excellent job, and we received several compliments for how Owens is handling the situation. Pat and I will keep you informed as we move forward.
Our landing page for information about Covid-19 is here:
I have been updating my President’s Blog regularly as a way of keeping the campus community informed:
I will close by telling you again how proud I am of our Owens team members and our leadership here in the State of Ohio. As you know, I have a large network of colleagues and counterparts from across the country. We are being seen as decisive leaders here in Ohio. A great deal of credit for this goes to Governor DeWine, Director Acton and Chancellor Gardner. This crisis has brought with it many shocks and stresses. Leadership has made all the difference in this.
Thank you, and have a safe and healthy weekend.
I would not be able to say such things if we did not have the dedicated faculty and staff who live out our mission of promoting student and community success. Thank you for all you do.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
No Time for Partisan PoliticsPosted on March 13th, 2020
The current Covid-19 crisis provides an opportunity for me to explain a very strongly-held view of mine about college leadership and politics.
Effective community college leaders strive to be non-partisan in their approach to leadership. Non-partisan is not the same as non-political. We need to work and align with politicians from every point on the political spectrum in order to advocate for our students and colleges. I have often said that if there were a Community College Party, I would join. We’re fortunate in community colleges to have great overlap in agenda between both major US political parties, and we have friends and advocates who are leaders on both sides. A crisis like we are seeing with Covid-19 tests the goal of being non-partisan. Here is my non-partisan, executive view of what is happening right now and how those politics impact us here at Owens.
How Effective Leaders Respond to Crisis
We begin by confronting brutal facts. Our Federal government was woefully unprepared for the current situation. The political fallout on the national level will happen along the following lines. One political party will exploit the crisis in an attempt to regain control of the executive branch. The other political party will defend the indefensible in an attempt to retain control of the executive branch. Neither effort helps us work the problem, so we will mostly need to look elsewhere for leadership. One notable place we can look is competent state governments. The DeWine administration here in Ohio is an example of where the response has been highly effective. What you are seeing in Ohio is not a partisan response, but a technocratic/administrative response. As impactful as it is, the formula is fairly simple:
- Approach the problem as a learning organization, leveraging departments and experts to gather the best information available
- Formulate a strategy and plan of action based on valid data and expert opinion
- Take decisive action based on the best available data and communicate it effectively and often
Effective private and public sector leaders do this all day, every day. It’s what we do. This response will save lives and shorten the duration of the disruption. What we have seen at the Federal level will do the opposite. Successful organizations will take their cues from leaders who are working the problem using the formula above. This is why Owens Community College is proudly taking the Governor’s lead as our state faces this crisis head on.
It is almost a cliché to say “this is not a time for politics.” And of course there are important political considerations for our response now and in the future. But until we have done everything we can to ensure that our students, faculty and staff are safe, nobody has time for that. Until we do our best work to minimize disruption to our mission of student and community success, we just don’t have time. As the dust settles, we will need to get political to repair and recover. We will need resources to bounce back, and when we advocate for those resources, we will do so in the non-partisan manner we always have with our excellent team at the Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC).
The work that is going on right now makes me so proud to lead a community college. I am also proud of our Governor, the Trustees he appointed to our Board, and the Chancellor of Higher Education. State government is working.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
College Culture and Covid-19 ResponsePosted on March 12th, 2020
A reporter from a national higher education magazine just asked me what the climate was like on our campus now that we are two days into our Covid-19 response as a college. I was able to share my personal perspective, which is one of gratitude for the amazing work being done by faculty and staff as we consider the needs of our students and community. I have seen many people over the past 48 hours, but not in the same ways I normally do. Our leadership team has been busy, and we are not holding large events: spaces where I often get to interact with our Owens community. I also told the reporter that our people have been incredibly understanding and flexible. I am so thankful for and impressed by this.
Twitter has become an active and important part of the way I stay connected, nationally, regionally, and even here on campus. Last night I posted a series of tweets inspired by things we are learning and working on here at Owens. The tweets are also reflective of great ideas I have heard from colleagues across the country. My tweet made five points, and I thought I would expand on those five in a blog entry.
Our efforts to move Owens through the Covid-19 response with the least disruption to our mission of student and community success will be a long-term effort. I am concerned about the levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout among members of our teams. I am also concerned about our students. These five points are a distillation of things that are currently on my mind about this concern. I shared them on Twitter, and folks within higher ed seem to think they are helpful; I have slightly expanded the text of each thought because I don’t have the character limit present on Twitter:
1) Equity and Student Impact. Our college responses to Covid-19 will not impact all students the same way. Like many other colleges, our faculty and staff are deeply exploring equity in student outcomes; we know that all of our students do not benefit at the same rate or respond in the same way to college programs and services. We have gaps that need to be studied and closed. This will be equally true (perhaps increasingly true) of our efforts to operate during this disruption. Apply what you know about equity to strategies and plans. If your equity efforts are lagging, research what other colleges are doing. Not all students are coming from the same place. You know this.
2) Stress and Well Being. I am very concerned about how the stress and anxiety of this new reality will impact our Owens people. I let the rest of the higher education community know: Team members at your college will experience this stress differently. It is taxing on mental health, physical and social well being. Watch each other. Take breaks. Ask how folks are doing. This stuff is hard on people. Be human and help when you can.
3) Patience/Flexibility. We all came to the realization that Covid-19 would be a big disruption to our college on different timetables. Some people may have been actively dismissive or grumpy about our initial bold moves to respond. Cut everyone slack, especially the people who complain, are rude, or don’t want to listen and learn. This thing is getting real fast, and they will come around. Don’t take it personally when students and employees vent. Teach them what you know about the now and the future. We all need to exercise patience and flexibility.
4) Social “First Responders.” I’m not sure if “social first responders” is a real term, but it is now. I am talking to our colleagues who read and respond to social media posts, angry e-mails, complaint visits, and cranky phone calls. Pay special attention to the folks who have to deal with social media, phone calls, and responding to traditional media. Many are trained to not to take this personally, but that only lasts so long. They need your care. And help. And breaks.
5) State Leadership. The leaders in your state are doing the best they can. Personally, I am blown away by the seriousness, responsiveness, and clarity displayed by Governor DeWine and Chancellor Gardner. From my perspective, their quick, decisive action and effective communication made all the difference in the world this week. Their leadership will save lives. Tell your leaders you appreciate them and let them know how they can help.
John Hetts, an IR professional in the California community college system added the following: “Take moments to love those you love & savor the experiences you savor.” I love that. So true. Leave it to an institutional researcher to suggest we savor and love experiences and people. Love it!
In the coming days and weeks, I intend to pay special attention to these and other issues as our campus community mounts a long-term effort to promote student and community success under difficult conditions. Please accept my thanks for all you are doing for Owens.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Class Cancellations/Covid-19Posted on March 11th, 2020
This blog entry is NOT the most current information about Owens Community College and coronavirus/Covid-19. The site with updated information can be found here.
I am writing as a follow up to the all-campus notification that was just sent. It contains the same information, but I did want you to hear directly from me with some additional context.
As you can imagine, our teams here at Owens have been working hard to understand the current situation with the priority being student, faculty and staff safety. I so appreciate their care, thoughtfulness, and hard work. I began my day in Columbus with the other community college presidents at OACC. Governor DeWine and Chancellor Gardner met with us in person. We had a very excellent discussion; the Governor shared his deep concern about the emerging health issues surrounding coronavirus, including a description of the information he has learned from monitoring other countries, other regions of our country, and the 10-physician team he has assembled on this issue. Both the Governor and Chancellor Gardner also took the time to listen. As an educator, I was impressed that they both are approaching the situation from a perspective of learning.
I am very impressed that the Chancellor and the Governor came to speak with the community colleges presidents prior to the Governor’s 2pm press conference today. After our meeting, we returned to our campuses to work with our teams. At 6pm this evening, Jack Hershey and the OACC convened a conference call with all community colleges to share strategies and responses. While they are doing so in different ways that fit the region and context, every community college is being responsive to the Governor’s recommendations. It appears that universities are doing this as well.
Owens Community College plans to follow the guidelines set forth by Governor DeWine’s office. Classes are cancelled, Wednesday, March 11 through Sunday, March 15. Online classes will continue as scheduled. Students in internships, clinicals and directed practices should report as scheduled unless otherwise notified by their facility. All faculty and staff should report to campus.
Owens’ scheduled Spring Break is Monday, March 16 through Sunday, March 22.
Beginning Monday, March 23 and ending Monday, April 6, Owens will operate on a modified schedule. In-person classes will be transitioned to alternative delivery. College personnel will contact students regarding their specific courses.
We have created a landing page for Owens-specific updates on coronavirus/Covid-19.
As the Governor noted, our response to this evolving situation will cause a disruption of the learning environment and college operations. Thank you for your understanding and patience as we work together to keep our campus community safe. Future information will be shared through all of our communication channels.
Note: Below is a video I recorded this morning (2020-03-11) after receiving a very thoughtful e-mail from a student named Brian. Note that I say “May” instead of “March” here. The press conference I mention is linked above.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Coronavirus / COVID-19 PreparationPosted on February 27th, 2020
Our team here at Owens has been following developments on the emerging Coronavirus. Information about the College’s preparation and prevention plans will be shared through the normal channels, specifically ONews. I did want to publish a few additional details here on the blog.
Current Status at Owens
- Vice President/General Counsel Lisa Nagel is our primary point person for preparedness and response in regard to the outbreak; both the departments of Public Safety and Workplace Safety/Health Services reside in her area
- Owens participated in the first state-wide conference call on the virus with Governor Mike DeWine and Chancellor Randy Gardner on January 28, public colleges in Ohio were directed to work closely with local public health agencies, and that work had already begun here at Owens
- On February 3, the Ohio Department of Higher Education held a joint conference call with the Ohio Department of Health; the President of Miami University was on the call to share lessons learned from false reports of Coronavirus cases on campus
- Today, Chancellor Gardner shared an update on the State of Ohio response to the virus; Governor DeWine also held a press conference today.
Below is a copy of the letter from Chancellor Gardner. More Owens-specific information will be shared soon, but the most important message for today is:
We urge all of our students, faculty, and employees who have not yet received a flu shot to do so immediately.
An annual flu shot is covered by all of our health insurance plans at the college. As the Ohio Association of Community Colleges (OACC) stated on Twitter this afternoon:
“Getting a flu shot today will help our medical professionals better respond to the coronavirus if it hits, because there will be less people seeking medical help for the flu, whose symptoms can look very similar to coronavirus.”
Please get a flu shot and engage in regular handwashing.
Here are the two links in Chancellor Gardner‘s letter:
Back during the era of the H1N1 outbreak, Owens Community College assembled a Pandemic committee and formal Pandemic Crisis Plan; a team here at the college is working to update and revise this plan. As we have more information about Owens-specific responses to Coronavirus, we will publicize them through ONews.
This excellent blog post from Scientific American contains information about the virus and what ordinary people should know and do to prepare. This blog entry contains a helpful link to this one-page summary of how to prepare as a regular household.
Again: I personally urge everyone in our community to wash your hands, and get a flu shot.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
Employee Assistance ProgramPosted on January 9th, 2020
Life can be hard, and it’s okay to ask for help.
This is a message that bears repeating. Just by being human, we all experience stresses that can interfere with our health and well being. It is often difficult for individuals to reach out for help, as some aspects of our culture define asking for assistance as a sign of weakness. It shouldn’t be. I don’t think we can stress that message enough given the stresses and pressures that many people face in their daily life. Again: life can be hard, and it’s okay to ask for help.
As we begin the Spring 2020 semester, I would like to formally remind all Owens Community College employees of a benefit available to our campus community. Many employers sponsor an Employee Assistance Program, or EAP. Ours is called Health Advocate, and it is managed through Unum. Here is the contact information for our program, which is also listed on our Owens Intranet:
Toll-free, 24-hour access
Online Access: www.lifebalance.net
User ID and password: lifebalance
Even more information about our EAP program can be obtained from our office of Human Resources, but the program is designed so that you don’t need to contact anyone here at the college to utilize it. Our EAP is completely confidential. So what is an EAP? Here’s a definition from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):
An employer-sponsored employee assistance plan (EAP) is a work-based intervention program designed to identify and assist employees in resolving personal problems that may be adversely affecting their performance at work, such as marital, financial or emotional problems; family issues; or substance or alcohol abuse.
We provide an EAP because faculty and staff are human beings, and humans have real-life problems and struggles. Not only is it compassionate and caring to provide help in this way, it also ensures that the people who work at our college have the necessary tools to integrate their professional and personal lives. Employees who are dealing with trauma, distress and crises have a very difficult time being effective at work. The bottom line is that we want the humans who work here to be happy and healthy.
In a 2014 blog post, SHRM reported that only about 3.5% of employees take advantage of EAP services when they are available. That is certainly far lower than the percentage of employees who are dealing with significant life issues that have the potential to interfere with work and well being. They cite a 2013 study of EAP utilization that examined a very comprehensive set of EAP programs covering 29,000 organizations with 62 million employees.
We provide an Employee Assistance Program because we want the people who work at Owens to get the most out of life. Each of us is a human being first and a faculty or staff member second. It is important that you take care of yourself, and sometimes reaching out for help through a service like our EAP is an important step in that self care.
Use of our Health Advocate EAP is confidential. You do not need to inform anyone at the college when you reach out to the service. In preparation for this blog entry, I logged on to the web site to make sure it’s working. I called the number to make sure it works. We provide this service 24 hours per day, and the call is toll free. In the same SHRM article I cited above, a benefits manager from a large corporation stressed the importance of confidentiality. “Employees don’t necessarily believe that we don’t know who has called the EAP,” she said. She even expressed that some organizations might further raise suspicion that the program is not confidential by encouraging participation.
Please be assured that our EAP provider does not communicate the identity of employees who utilize the service. I have personally verified this with our Human Resources department. Confidentiality is a crucial part of the program design. The College is only provided with high-level aggregated use data; it would defeat the purpose of the program if the provider told the employer who utilized the service. How do I know this? I have spent many years encouraging my community college colleagues to utilize an EAP. Often it was difficult to persuade people to reach out for help. When someone is particularly resistant to reaching out to the EAP, I tell them the story about when I used the service at my previous college.
Prior to becoming a supervisor, I served as President of my faculty union for a period of 10 years. As you can imagine, I often worked with people during some of the most stressful and difficult times of their careers. I frequently recommended that people utilize the services of our EAP at the college. Sometimes this was very difficult, as our members often thought that the college was collecting information about who utilized the services. There must be some kind of catch, right? Levels of trust were low. That general suspicion was a bad combination with our “tough person” culture of not wanting to ask for help. Getting folks to utilize the EAP was often a tough sell.
I don’t mind sharing a time during my career when I absolutely needed the services of my college’s EAP. For some people, the event that created my need for help might not seem very traumatic. I certainly don’t want to represent it as a major tragedy, as I know many individuals who have suffered far greater shocks and stresses in their lives. That is partially my point, however; crises, trauma and stress are not a contest. My relatively minor issue created a real disturbance in my life, and I needed help to deal with it. For readers who have experienced much worse, please don’t think I am comparing my situation to yours. My point is simple: I needed help, and I took the step to follow my own advice and utilize the Employee Assistance Program.
When my two children were very small, the three of us were traveling southbound on I-75 near Flint, Michigan. As traffic was slowing down for construction, I noticed a large Chevy Silverado truck barreling towards us in my rearview mirror. We were traveling at about 30 miles per hour and the truck was coming at us at full highway speed, I would estimate 70-75 miles per hour. This distracted driver didn’t even touch the brakes, and he violently smashed into us, launching our minivan into the air and the next lane of traffic. Thankfully there was a space in that lane for us to land, and I was able to pilot our car like a sled onto the shoulder of the highway. The collision left a 3 foot intrusion into the back of our car. Anyone seated in that last row would have been instantly killed.
All three of us were taken to the hospital, and thankfully none of us was severely injured. But I don’t need to (and don’t want to) rehearse what happened inside that car during the accident, the thoughts that flashed through my brain. It was without question the most scared I have ever been in my life. Again, we were super fortunate. I went to work the next day. The kids returned to day care and school. But I could not shake what had happened. Driving on the highway was difficult. I was easily distracted at work. The events and thoughts I mentioned above would not leave my mind. This anxiety and trauma kept me from concentrating at work. I needed help, and I found myself thinking that I should just tough it out. I knew people who lost loved ones in accidents like this. Dear friends had witnessed people die in crashes like this. I made a list as long as my arm of tragedy and trauma that clearly outweighed what had happened to me. For obvious reasons, my spouse did not want to discuss my experience, as her head was filled with the same dread and worry I encountered in mine. Still, I felt I could handle this.
Then I remembered my advice to colleagues, union members, and later the employees who reported to me. “We have an EAP for a reason–use it.” So I did. And it helped. I learned ways to process what had happened to me–including the looping thoughts of doom and disaster–and found a way to avoid anxiety on the highway. I was able to move away from the mental patterns that kept me from focusing and concentrating. It got better. Utilizing the EAP helped.
Again, I am no hero for doing this, and I can think of numerous people right here at Owens who have endured far worse. But it’s not a contest. I tell the story to reinforce the fact that we have our EAP for a reason. Nothing is more important than your health and well being as a person. As I wrote in a previous blog entry on suicide prevention and awareness, we have to find ways to talk about difficult topics such as these.
Life can be hard, and it’s okay to ask for help.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.
What Does It Mean to be the Premier Two-Year College in Northwest Ohio?Posted on January 3rd, 2020
As we approach the one year anniversary of the adoption of our new Owens Community College mission, vision and strategic plan, I have been reflecting on one of the three major elements of our new vision statement. An aspirational statement that describes a desired future state, our collective vision for Owens calls us to become three things: a) an indispensable partner, b) the first choice for students seeking career credentials and university transfer, and c) the premier two-year college in Northwest Ohio. I have decided that the “premier college” aspect of our vision will be a primary focus for me as President in 2020. I would like to persuade our campus community to do the same. But what does it mean to be a premier college?
The Word “Premier”
The American Heritage College Dictionary defines premier as an adjective meaning “First or paramount.” I prefer the definition found in my favorite dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary, or OED. The OED is a wonderful thing, and was an irreplaceable tool for me during my time as an English major. My “micrographically reproduced” copy of the OED was a gift from my late mother; it’s one of my most cherished possessions. This three-volume version contains all of the content from the twenty volume set found in the library, and it requires the use of a magnifying glass (which was included with the set). The OED definition of premier is:
“First in position, importance or rank; chief, leading, foremost.”
Now, that’s the definition we’re looking for! It captures the spirit of the dozens of suggestions we received during our internal and external stakeholder sessions, as well as the online surveys we deployed to students, faculty, staff, and community members. As a former English professor, I am endlessly fascinated by the meaning and historical development of words. The word “premier” has an interesting history and connotation.
In addition to being the most authoritative dictionary of the English language, the OED is an historical dictionary, meaning that it contains significant uses of words at various points in time. The first recorded use of the word “premier” in the English language comes from the year 1470, when it was used to list the names of the most important English poets of the time: “Maisters Gower, Chaucer & Lydgate, Premier poets of this nacion.” Note the non-standardized spelling and punctuation of that fifteenth-century sentence, which is another cool feature of the OED. It’s like a linguistic time machine. Two other things we can learn from the OED about the word premier: the word came into the English language through Old French. I will hold aside the fascinating story of the Norman Conquest of 1066, but suffice it to say that the official “governing” language of England in the eleventh century was Norman French, and the language we now speak is a result of the collision between Old French and Old English. Norman French was a dialect of the modern language we call French, and traces back to the Latin used during the Roman Empire. The Latin word for premier is “primarius” from the root “primus,” meaning first.
But enough historical linguistics. Another modern book that was a gift from my late mother is The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale. This book works like a Thesaurus, but it is far simpler. Look up a word and you will discover a list of synonyms. The synonyms for “premier” in The Synonym Finder are: “chief, principal, cardinal, headmost, topmost, foremost, highest, uppermost; of the first rank, ranking, top-rank, supreme, paramount, preeminent.” These synonyms provide a more complete sense of what is meant by the word.
Use in Higher Education
The word “premier” is not commonly used for ranking colleges and universities. There are several lists that rank colleges, and the well-known ranking produced by US News and World Report goes by the title “Best Colleges.” In its prestigious Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, for example, the Aspen Institute refers to institutions eligible to compete for the prize as “Top Colleges.” I was, however, able to find some interesting uses of the phrase “premier college” in primary sources from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
By sheer coincidence, an early use of this phrase refers to Owens College, one of the many colleges that make up the University of Manchester in England. This Owens College was named after John Owens, a wealthy textile merchant who made a substantial gift in order to found the institution. The following sentence comes from the Cape Quarterly Review in 1881, shortly after the university was founded: “Owens College, Manchester, is the headquarters of the new university and its premier college” (681). Oddly enough, one of my Ph.D. classmates now works at the University of Manchester. Small world! Another example—this one describing Magill University in Canada—comes from the April 1904 edition of the Alumni Bulletin of the University of Virginia: “She is the premier college in Canada, and is justly proud of her laboratories and workshops, and of course the fine training given to her graduates.” One final use of the phrase comes from the 1906 edition of the Educational Times and Journal of the College Preceptors, which notes that University College, part of the University of London, “still kept its place to the front as the oldest and premier college of London” (289-290). In each of these historical uses, the phrase “premier college” is deployed to mean primary, most prestigious, or most highly regarded.
As it turns out, there are a few colleges that actually go by the name Premier College. In Irwindale, California there is an independent institution called Premier Career College. British Columbia, Canada has the Vancouver Premier College of Hotel Management. There is even a Premier College in Kathmandu, Nepal!
One prominent use of the phrase appears in the subtitle of Jacques Steinberg’s 2002 book on the admissions processes of elite colleges and universities. The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College describes the systems and decision making of the admissions office at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. All of these examples point back toward the very comprehensive definition in the OED: “First in position, importance or rank; chief, leading, foremost.”
What Our Stakeholders Told Us
The introductory phrase “As the premier two-year college in Northwest Ohio” found its way into our vision statement because of suggestions from dozens of internal and external community members. Over nine hundred individuals participated in our strategic planning process in 2018, either by attending community input sessions that were held on campus and at various locations throughout our service district, or by responding to online surveys. As part of a very simple qualitative analysis, we thematically grouped hundreds of mission and vision statement suggestions using a quality tool called “affinity mapping.” Each individual suggestion was printed on an index card, and these cards were sorted by theme. The stack of eighty two cards for this theme was labeled “best/premier/first choice.” I jokingly referred to this theme as the “Leaders and Best” pile of cards, a reference to a line in the famous University of Michigan fight song, “The Victors.” Despite the fact that I taught graduate courses in English at the University of Michigan in Flint for many years, I don’t really consider myself a fan of “that team up north.” Still, the phrase seemed perfect for the content of the hopes and aspirations we received during the strategic planning process.
While the purpose of these individual cards has now expired, I keep them in a file drawer in my office. They make interesting reading. Each card contains a single element of a hope or aspiration for Owens Community College and what it could be in the future. Interestingly, our national campaign to end the stigma placed on community colleges can be traced back to one of these cards. An anonymous respondent to our online survey wrote: “Owens Community College will prove it beats the stigma of community colleges.” That single card launched a national social media campaign to improve the public perception of community colleges in the United States. It also resulted in key objective 4.3 of our strategic plan: “Directly address community college stigma and re-define institutional image.”
As an exercise to re-examine these eighty two suggestions for our vision statement, I sat down with the cards at my conference table and wrote them out on a tally sheet. There are interesting patterns and themes contained within these “Leaders and Best” suggestions. The word “leader” or “leadership” appears several times in phrases such as: leader in education; leader in academics; leading community college in the state of Ohio; state leader; regional leader; local leader; recognized leader; definitive leader; the leading educational institution. Taken as a group, these leadership suggestions conjure the image of a college at the forefront, the head of the pack, first in line, or the winner of a competition or race.
Some of the suggestions encourage Owens to become an exemplar, such as: example for other colleges; a model for Ohio and national colleges; prime example; people will look to Owens. A related theme is recognition. The notion of being formally recognized for excellence appears in suggestions such as: recognized as one of the best; ranked number one; recognized as the best two-year school in Ohio; top community college; recognized as best and first; regionally respected and recognized leader; premier educational or learning institution; premier community college in Ohio; premier two-year institution. “Best” is a word that also appears frequently in suggestions such as: best option; best community college; the best; best choice; top notch; best college; better than the rest; number one community college in the state; best and first. The overall message of these suggestions is a vision that Owens Community College should strive to be the best. There is also a competitive edge to many of these phrases. They suggest that we at Owens should not just strive to realize our full potential, but also endeavor to outrank and outperform other colleges.
An Invitation for 2020
So, what does all this mean? What have our internal and external stakeholders asked us to do in order to become a premier college? I would like that question to linger for a while. My hope is that this question—which is also the title of this essay—will permeate our work over the next year. I invite our entire college community to consider what it means to be a premier college in ways that help us learn, grow and improve in the months to come. Ask yourself, “what could I do in my role to make Owens the premier two-year college in Northwest Ohio?” Are the programs, services, and interactions in your area of influence worthy of the phrase “premier college?” If not, what would it take to get them there? As I reflect on this phrase, I realize that this question could be applied to nearly everything we do. Is this a premier college brochure, video or e-mail message? Is that carpet, flower bed, or paint job reflective of a premier college? Is this the kind of lesson plan, syllabus, class activity or assignment one would find at a premier college? As I type these hypothetical questions, I am filled with a sense of pride. I can point to individual examples of all these things and answer “yes” wholeheartedly when referring to Owens Community College. It is fitting, therefore, that the premier college element of our vision statement is the only part of the sentence that is in the present tense:
As the premier two-year college in Northwest Ohio, Owens Community College will be the first choice for students seeking career credentials and university transfer, and will be recognized as an indispensable partner for businesses, educational institutions and community organizations.
The intention to be recognized as the first choice and indispensable partner are stated as an aspiration: Owens will be recognized for these things in the future. But the premier college element is stated as a fact: something that is already true. And as the very proud President of Owens Community College, I do believe it to be true. My question to the campus community for 2020 is this: what can we do to earn that premier college label and make it even more true? What aspects of our college do we need to work to keep premier, and what can we do to elevate the areas that we do not currently perceive to be at that level? Those are questions worth pondering in the future. And please don’t be surprised if you hear me asking them in the coming year.
Happy New Year.
Steve Robinson, Ph.D.