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Care in the Academy — CITA


Catherine Denial

Mary Elizabeth Hand Bright and Edwin Winslow Bright Distinguished Professor of American History

2 East South Street

Galesburg, IL 61401



Blossoming trees around campus.

Pedagogies, Communities, and Practices of Care in the Academy after COVID-19

Funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

Over the past two years, administrators, faculty, staff, and students have held higher education together with willpower and determination. In the midst of a global pandemic, administrators have juggled increasingly complex financial realities and public-health considerations. Faculty and staff have been repeatedly asked to adapt to new workplace circumstances, juggling in-person, hybrid, and online modalities for teaching and student outreach. Campus communities have expended tremendous energy in reimagining educational programs, support services, and co-curricular activities to reach students located on campus, within commuting distance, and multiple time zones away. 

Even before the pandemic began, higher ed was riven with fracture. The competing stresses born by institutions following the 2008 economic crash, state-level funding cuts, the expansion of contingency, the student debt crisis, and the increasingly politicized attempts of legislatures to direct curriculum decisions within institutions themselves have taken a toll on those who work within our colleges and universities. Deeply embedded legacies of racial exclusion, socio-economic gate-keeping, and gender-based discrimination continue to shape our student bodies and the professional experiences of all those involved in higher ed. Administrators, faculty, and staff across higher ed report that they are burned out and exhausted. 

This is a crisis. In contrast to reactions driven by a mentality of scarcity and a desire to return to a normal that was already broken, we need to generate forward-looking responses grounded in compassion and justice. We must recognize the distinct challenges our campuses face while concurrently prioritizing the emotional, physical, and intellectual health and well-being of every member of our community. We need leadership on these matters, and this project aims to identify, cultivate, and support such leadership from members of all sectors of higher ed. 

This project contends that compassion and care can be expanded beyond classroom activities to be centered and then applied to the work done by all members of a given campus community. What does it mean to imagine and generate structural change rooted in the principle of compassion? This project will ask and answer this query first in the work of thematic teams that will identify processes for turning abstract ideas into concrete change, and then in the work of teams organized by institutional type that will take action on their individual campus and disseminate information and action plans across higher ed. 


Phase One of this project organized thirty-six higher ed administrators, faculty, and staff into three teams, each focused on a particular area of concern:

  • Trauma: How do we work toward ensuring that our interations with--and support of--all members of the campus and community are trauma-informed (particularly in light of the effects of an ongoing pandemic)?
  • Disability: Academia, as a sector, is predicated upon ableist understanding of how humans work best and transmit knowledge. How might we acknowledge and transform this ableism in and out of the classroom, particularly as we consider the implications of the ongoing pandemic and the long-term effects of COVID on teaching, learning, and working?
  • Pedagogy: What does it mean to practice pedagogy of care that extends to faculty and staff who are coming to terms with the effects of the pandemic on instructional modalities and student engagement?

Our work on each of these questions was driven by a collective commitment to justice--to pushing the boundaries of current thinking on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging in all we do. All three teams read widely about burnout, care, and mutual aid, and worked diligently to identify actions large and small that would make meaningful change in academia. You can read those reports at the links below:





In phase two of the Care in the Academy project, ten campus teams began exploring what it would look like to turn our phase one recommendations into concrete action. This report summarizes the efforts of teams from three flagship research institutions, three liberal arts colleges, three regional public universities, and one community college. In addition, it outlines the work of a team we came to affectionately call the Awesome Misfits: individuals who felt no strong connection to a particular campus (often because of contingency), or who felt that their reach and/or interests were more national than local.

The work of phase two has necessarily been slower than that of phase one, requiring that teams build buy-in from other individuals, teams, departments, and offices on their campus, navigate the particular cultures of their institutions, and consider nationally consequential issues. State legislative politics had a major impact on at least two of our institutions, for example, with legal prohibitions against Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work complicating those teams’ efforts. Some of our participants changed positions during the course of phase two; others could make only so much headway before the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. There is nevertheless much good news to report, with teams offering a range of models for responding to needs related to faculty and staff trauma, disability, and sustainable pedagogies.

We offer the following summaries of the work undertaken on a variety of campuses, and in a variety of educational settings, to suggest the many directions in which organizations and institutions might take this work. The need to care for faculty and staff across higher ed in the United States has not abated. While we continue to navigate the impact of Covid-19 in our educational environments, new stressors have been added to an already overwhelming mix, especially in the context of generative AI. As students consider whether to use software like ChatGPT, circumstance has once again required faculty and staff to change their pedagogies and practices on short notice, in order to respond to the challenges and opportunities inherent in AI’s use.

Phase Two Report

Meet the Care in the Academy Participants

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Printed on Saturday, June 15, 2024