In-Between Times

Adjusting to a new COVID normal.

November 11, 2021

Higher ed seems to be existing in an in-between pandemic time. Not out of navigating COVID-19 yet. Instead, maybe figuring out a new normal.

Face-to-face teaching and learning are back. But with masks. (Although academic classroom masking is more a regional than an epidemiological phenomenon, as I understand).

Many of us are working from campus. But most of our meetings are still on Zoom.

We are starting to see colleagues in person. But we are keeping our distance.

For many non-faculty (and some faculty) academic roles, remote work is now an accepted reality. But most of us are eager for the energy and connections of face-to-face campus life to resume fully.

The in-between is, in some ways, more difficult.

Meetings where some people are in-person and others are virtual are rarely good meetings. In-person meetings where everyone is masked are not all that enjoyable.

There is newfound flexibility in when, where, and how we do our academic work. Sometimes on-campus and sometimes at home. The cost of this flexibility seems to be that we now work more hours, adding home nights and weekends to the time we spend on campus.

Being somewhat, if not wholly, back into the full residential swing of academic life can serve to highlight how much we have lost. One of the pleasures of working at a college or university is the density of interactions. We love the energy of the students and the spontaneous conversations with colleagues.

We have glimpses of those benefits, but they are nowhere near at the level of pre-pandemic days.

Students, I suspect, are creating a new in-between culture of their own. For traditional-age 18-22-year-old residential undergraduates, the opportunity to live and study on campus will not soon again be taken for granted.

Living and studying at a school is better for so many of our students than the remote learning alternative. The inconveniences of masking are a small price to pay for being back.

For faculty and staff, I wonder if we have been slower than our students to build our new academic in-between workplaces cultures.

None of us wants to spend much time creating new norms around a public health reality that we all hope will improve. It feels like too much work to make this in-between time much better, and none of us has much energy to try.

So we live with this sort of / not-really done with COVID reality. We gratefully mask and test and booster. We embrace our newfound academic work flexibility. We sometimes meet in person and more times by Zoom.

And we wait for this all to end and for life to go back to normal.

How long do you think we will be waiting?

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Joshua Kim

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