2020: A year that some of us would simply prefer to forget. Even just typing it brings a wave of mixed emotions. In some cases, it feels as if we just skipped over the entire year; graduations didn’t occur, family reunions were canceled, cycling races and fundraisers were delayed or moved virtual, and campus visitors missed seeing the beautiful flowers bloom during the spring as well as the leaves change color in the fall.
On the other end of the spectrum, changes have occurred rapidly and with very little warning. Mom and pop stores closed overnight and drug stores converted into rapid testing facilities. Our campus course-corrected in a matter of months, aggressively tackling the challenges facing our institution even as these same challenges continue to threaten the higher education enterprise more broadly.
Moreover, as a country, despite the tremendously proud moments of launching Americans back into space from U.S. soil in nearly 10 years – an achievement we should be so profoundly proud of as a nation – 2020 was wretchedly anchored with overwhelming sorrow as we witnessed our country continue to deeply struggle with equality, humanity, and basic rights.
If you asked me a year ago if I would have thought someday we’d be sharing stories with our children and grandchildren about living through all of this along with the worst pandemic in recent history, I would have said, “Not in a million years.” How quickly things change and how, sadly, some don’t at all. With all of that being said, there are a few positive narratives that I challenge all of us to include in these reflections of how it was back in 2020.
First, as a leading institution of higher education in central Arkansas, the university recognized we are not only a critical component in providing educational opportunities that improve people’s skills, but we also serve as a tool for economic development. In our significant role, we are responsible for making not just an impact, but in many cases, a tremendous and life-changing impact, on the lives of our students and community.
It is with this recognition that came a heartfelt obligation to double down on our efforts and ensure we continue to positively influence the lives of our students. Dare not the virus steal away even a single year of opportunity for someone to advance or better themselves. This perspective was witnessed in committee after committee over the course of the past few months. The campus understood our mission and despite significant challenges, faced all of them head-on to make certain we continued to offer the higher education experience and life betterment opportunities students have come to expect from us.
Second, we never strayed from our original goal of modernizing our business processes or making other necessary and sometimes tough changes to enhance the effectiveness and security of services to campus. Not only did the campus transition to a modern HR and Finance system during the middle of a pandemic, but did it with zero surge staffing and minimal consulting resources dedicated to the institution.
Accomplishing this project during the best of times would have led to about a one in four chance of success. Yet success was achieved with a team of dedicated individuals – and more broadly the campus – who took the training, learned new processes, tested the system, provided feedback, and above all, exhibited patience as the system was rolled out.
Put another way, there are very few times individuals even want to be just a team member in one of these system conversions, but I’m proud to say our implementation had more than a few that were here nearly two decades ago when an earlier system conversion took place.
Lastly, the university continues to push forward on enhancing the security of our campus systems during a time of significantly increasing criminal cyber activity. Multi-factor authentication, a critical component to securing our campus infrastructure and data, continues to be deployed across our various systems with more systems coming in the next few months. Campus IT policies have been updated, many of which were not touched in the past two decades, making them not only nearly obsolete but also impractical during this day and age.
In summary, 2020 has proven to be a crazy and unpredictable year. Despite that, monumental and undeniable progress has occurred throughout campus because of the excellent partnerships, hard work, patience, and willingness to change. None of these achievements could have been possible without everyone’s commitment to this campus and our students. I implore everyone to use this same energy and enthusiasm as we look forward to 2021. Continue to make a positive difference in people’s lives on campus and more broadly, across society.