Faculty leadership during a crisis

By Tabitha Whissemore

When COVID-19 hit, a professor at New Jersey college didn’t lose sight of what was important: his students.

As the numbers of COVID-19-positive people started to grow in New York and New Jersey, Hudson County Community College (HCCC) assistant history professor Antonio Acevedo knew it was just a matter of time before the college would have to adapt. When Acevedo learned the campus would close and in-person classes would be moved online, his priority was to reassure students.

“All the hard work you put in will continue to be counted,” he told them. “We’ll be there for you.”

Managing priorities

Acevedo has been teaching at HCCC for seven years. To him—and to faculty leaders at every community college—teaching is about more than instruction; it’s about understanding and responding to students’ needs.

“They’re looking to me for leadership during this moment,” Acevedo says. “For some students, there could be anxiety. I’m making sure students know they’re going to continue to get a good education.”

He’s kept in constant communication with his students—especially early on, before he even had “it all figured out,” he says. He also has let students know about the resources available to them through the college, including mental health resources.

“There are some profound ways they may be impacted,” Acevedo adds. But, he has been happy to see that the majority of his students are engaged in learning and continuing classroom conversations online.

“Our student population is already agile. I have to give credit to students; they’ve always shown resilience,” he says.

His next priority was to help his colleagues. He’s taught several online courses and is a program coordinator. He offered to lend his expertise by conducting a workshop and helping other faculty—particularly adjunct faculty.

“I know how stressful this can be foradjunct faculty navigating this time,” he says. He sent part-time colleagues a list of helpful resources for teaching history, including open educational resources and historical academic podcasts.

He’s also touching base with colleagues often to find out what’s working and what isn’t—something he’d made a priority on campus, too.

“I miss those hallway conversations,” says Acevedo, who was awarded the American Association of Community Colleges’ 2020 Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction Recognition.

Going forward

As for the delivery of instruction going forward, “this has shown the importance of being flexible, having contingency plans and looking out for colleagues,” Acevedo says. “This is a good time for us to reflect on our strengths and areas for improvement.”

It’s also a time for community building—from a distance.

“We work with each other in meetings and committees, but there’s a bit of isolation in our profession. This is a really great moment for us to realize we have a great community of support,” he says.

There’s more to the story! Read how faculty members from other colleges also are showing leadership in the full article, coming soon in the June/July Community College Journal.

Tabitha Whissemore

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.