Responding to COVID-19 at University of the Ozarks with President Richard Dunsworth

Cover Art: Responding to COVID-19 at University of the Ozarks with President Richard Dunsworth
Estimated Reading Time: 21 minutes

In this special episode, we talk with President Richard Dunsworth of the University of the Ozarks about the impact of COVID-19 on his school. From leadership in times of crisis to wide-ranging operational changes to the long-term impact this global crisis could have on the institution, we explore how one school is coping with profound and rapid change.



Jarrett Smith:
You’re listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m Jarrett Smith. Today’s episode is going to be a little different from what we normally do, considering everything we’re going through right now with regard to COVID-19. We wanted to hit pause on the marketing conversation to consider some of the broader challenges that schools are facing.

To do that, we’re going to take a closer look at how one school, the University of the Ozarks, has been coping with the massive and disruptive changes brought about by recent events. Joining us in that conversation is University of the Ozarks’ president, Richard Dunsworth. Also joining us is Scott Rhodes, senior strategist at Echo Delta.

President Dunsworth was generous enough to share his candid thoughts on everything from leadership in times of crisis to the operational challenges the school is facing to the potential longterm impacts we might see in higher education. While President Dunsworth would probably be the very first to point out that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, I do think you’ll find much of what he says to be very helpful as you grapple with many, if not all of the same issues at your institution.

Now, for a more formal introduction, Richard L Dunsworth JD became president of the University of the Ozarks in 2013. Under his leadership, enrollment at the university has increased 49% from 585 in 2013 to 872 in 2018 and the university has been consistently ranked by US News and World Report in its annual Great Schools, Great Prices category. Prior to arriving at Ozarks, Dunsworth was an administrator for 22 years at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois where he served as interim president and vice president for enrollment.

A native of Colorado, Dunsworth earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He holds a Master’s Degree in Education from Eastern Illinois University in Charleston and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Also joining us is Scott Rhodes, senior strategist at Echo Delta. Scott is a data-driven enrollment professional with two decades of experience directing the marketing and enrollment efforts of major universities around the country. In his role as senior strategist, Scott serves as a knowledgeable consultant and advisor to Echo Delta’s clients, providing them with expert guidance in the areas of onsite and remote enrollment, student searches, CRM, and higher education marketing. Without further ado, here’s my conversation with President Dunsworth and Scott Rhodes.

President Dunsworth, Scott Rhodes, welcome to the show.

Richard Dunsworth:
Thanks for having me.

Scott Rhodes:

Richard Dunsworth:
Appreciate spending some time with you.

Jarrett Smith:
Great. Well, I am eager to jump into this conversation with you both. Before I do, given how fast things have been developing around the world and here in the US, I feel like it’s necessary to note exactly when we’re having this conversation. This is the afternoon of Sunday, March 22nd. A lot has happened in a short time and no doubt a lot more is going to happen in the coming weeks.

President Dunsworth, just to get things started, I’d like to throw a question over to you: How do you view your role as a university president and, I guess, leadership in a time of crisis like this, especially one where there’s just no off-the-shelf playbook?

Richard Dunsworth:
Sure. I think there are a couple of roles. The first one that I think about is I have to be the institution cheerleader with all respect intended there, that my tenor will set the tenor for other conversations that are going on. Even if I want to close the door and scream or stick my head in the sand, I can’t do either, that it’s imperative that I’m striving to be even-keeled.

While I’m doing that, it’s in many ways, a hub and spokes as lots of information is coming in, whether that’s from a critical response team or a student advisory group or alumni or board or media or, in this case, the federal government. It’s imperative that I communicate. What’s the old adages on over-communication? In this particular situation, I don’t think it’s possible to over-communicate.

Then finally, it’s helping folks understand when decisions have been made and that some decisions we just can’t dwell on. We have to make them and once we’ve made them, we need to move forward. Now, I say all that, but there have been some second-guessing of decisions behind closed doors in very small groups going, “Did we make the right decision? Should we undo it? Should we modify it?”

As I’ve been public, it’s been more about how do we modify things as we learn more information. As you know, information is coming at us very, very quickly both at the state and federal level and just as we’ve maybe made a decision, then we get new information that causes us to need to modify it.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, that’s such an interesting balance. It seems like you might have to strike in terms of when decisions are made, especially in a very fluid, fast-moving situation like this. You don’t have perfect information, but you need to make decisions. How do you balance what I would assume is the need to lead and set a direction, but also leave room for going back and revising decisions and improving and iterating. How do you personally strike that balance and do both? Because it seems like a difficult balancing act.

Richard Dunsworth:
Sure. I once did an interview. I feel badly that I can’t remember who it was. He was the lead person for the World Health Organization during one of the Ebola outbreaks. I was struck when he made this statement, “You’re going to make mistakes and if you wait until you have all of the information until you know everything is perfect, you’re going to have really dire consequences. If you accept the fact that you’re going to make some mistakes and you step into it, you lean into it, you’re going to have a better result.”

Now our staff, especially at the executive level, we’ve been discussing making mistakes for years that we’ve been discussing that we’re going to have some failures and we’ve talked about, “If we’re going to fail, let’s fail quickly. Let’s call it and move on.” In some areas, in some ways, I think this team at University Ozarks was maybe a little more prepared because that’s the kind of language we use. The executive staff and the critical incident response team are accustomed to having really honest debate and discourse and leaving feelings and ego and emotion aside and going, “We’ve just got to get things done.”

Jarrett Smith:
It sounds like something that’s already been baked into your culture to a certain extent.

Richard Dunsworth:
It’s not fully baked, but we’ve been working on it.

Jarrett Smith:
Right. Circling back to a comment you made earlier that there are moments where you kind of want to go in your office and maybe pound your fist or scream for a minute, but you can’t. I’m curious, as a leader, how do you keep your own head straight? Are there practices or things that you do to keep yourself centered so that you really can lead effectively and present the way you need to your team?

Richard Dunsworth:
There are a couple of practices that are maybe more tactical and then we’ll maybe get into more lofty. On the tactical side, I’ve learned to manage my calendar. What do I mean by that? In every day, I have empty space, at least a couple of hours where I can either place a phone call, talk to someone, walk the campus, but it’s time that I hold sacred and that not even my administrative assistant can encroach on. It was hard-learned. I used to give it up really easily. As I’ve, I guess, matured in the role to appreciate that my time is valuable and that I need to use it.

One of the pieces that may sound overly simplistic, but it’s one that I also preach to my students: Sleep, that sleep can’t be the first thing to go because if in crisis we start sacrificing sleep, we’re probably sacrificing our ability to think clearly and to model reasonable health. It’s not to say that I don’t always get it right or that there aren’t sleepless nights, but I work pretty hard to try to ensure that my mind’s clear when I hit work in the morning.

Then finally, since I’ve got an impressive support group, it starts with my spouse, but then there are friends around the country, if not around the world, that we touch in with each other and sometimes it’s just a recorded video on something like a Marco Polo that I’ve said it out loud and know that throughout the day my support group’s going to hear it and they’re going to respond back or they’re going to give me some advice or every now and then they’ll text and give me a call and they’ll keep going.

Scott Rhodes:
You mentioned government. How has the state and local government reached out to you to see how you’re doing?

Richard Dunsworth:
At the local level, it’s come from our mayor, a text every couple of days going, “Hey, how are things? Is there anything we can do to support you?” At the state level, it’s more coming from our independent association, the executive director of the 11 independent colleges here in Arkansas. From an information standpoint, it’s more coming from the staff in Little Rock and like anyone else, it’s watching the news or trying to stay current with social media as our governor and his advisors make announcements.

Jarrett Smith:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Obviously, a school like yours, like any institution of higher learning is deeply connected and is an important part of the surrounding community. In a situation like this, how do you conceive of your school’s role in the broader community that you serve?

Richard Dunsworth:
University of the Ozarks is one of the top 10 employers in the community. We’re a small community of about 10,000 people. In a most recent economic impact study, we know that we’re having nearly a $40 million annual impact in the community. That can’t drive the decisions around safety as it relates to how we treat our students.

As we’ve made decisions, we started thinking about, okay, what does it look like? What does it look like to our vendors? What does it look like? Well, if I’m down to only 300 students is most of our students have left, we’re still housing about 300. What does it look like is it relates to their consumption and their spending? What does it look like when I cancel all of these athletic events? We haven’t canceled Commencement, but if we would, that’s tens and tens of thousands of dollars of impact in our community.

The kinds of things we’ve suggested to our folks is as we move forward, any chance we can to buy local, we’re going to buy local. Where we’re the landlord of tenants, specifically commercial tenants, we’ve suspended rent. I say “suspended,” it’s not exactly what we’ve done, but what we’ve told those owners is “Take care of your employees, take care of your vendors, take care of everybody first, and put us at the bottom of the list. We’ll figure this out later.”

Now, we do that because we need those small businesses to exist three months from now, six months from now, to be able to serve our students. If their liability to us becomes a weight or a burden or a yoke around their neck, that’s not helpful in this environment for this relationship.

We’ve also started conversations on are there things that we do on campus from a spending standpoint that we could convert to spending even more local, not anything that would put us at risk, but what could we do to ensure that did that multiplier of expense is happening local as opposed to just sending resources out?

I think the other piece is we’re trying to communicate, we’re trying to role model. When we suspended classes and started moving to remote, well, folks thought we were overreacting. I got more than a few of those as I was filling up my gas tank one day, going, “Really?” Then all the theories and the conspiracies and this and it’s just smiling and saying, “Hey, I have to do what’s best and what we think is right for our students and that’s how we’re progressing.”

Jarrett Smith:
I’m curious, just to kind of circle back to students for a minute, we’ve seen schools handle this in different ways. In some cases, students have completely left the campus. In some ways, it sounds like many students, most students have left, but some are on campus. How did you and your team weigh that decision to have students on campus for the Ozarks? What was your thought process there?

Richard Dunsworth:
Let’s talk a little bit about calendar. We start spring break next week. Our spring break was a little bit later. Arkansas has a synced spring break. That’s one of the pieces. As this was unfolding, we made the decision to suspend classes last week to give our faculty a chance to move to online, something we are not known for. Our faculty don’t do it. It’s just not in our ethos.

As we started the decisions or started the process with this, we just then started looking at our student body. Our students represent 27 States and 24 or 25 different countries. At least one of those countries had started to close its borders right as we were making the decision to make some changes, so what we decided was consistent with our faith heritage, that if this becomes really dire, might we flip into a service mode that’s maybe even greater than our education mode? We have large-scale kitchens, we have large-scale cleaning operations, we have residence halls that, for the most part, can be quarantined. Who knows where this might go? If that’s our mindset, well, then we need to share that mindset with our students.

What we asked them, what I asked them was consult your family, consult your advisors, consult those people who advise you and make a personal decision. If that decision is for you to go home, great, we’ll figure this out. If that decision is for you to stay here because you think, all things considered, it’s safer for you to be in a 9,000-person community on a campus where we know you, well, then we’ll serve you and we’re in for the long haul.

What we found is that we assumed that would be overly international. It’s not as international as we thought. We have students from major metropolitan areas in the country that have said, “Hey, I’m going to ride it out here as opposed to risk going home.”

What we have said is that if a student leaves, i.e. this next week during spring break and you cross Arkansas state lines, the assumption is you can’t come back. We have an online system for them to do an evaluation and we have a multi-person team that’s evaluating situation by situation, but we’re trying to do what’s best for everybody almost on a case-by-case basis, which is why people go to small liberal arts colleges is they assume that they’re always going to be treated as an individual. We’re able to do that and that’s what we’ve done.

We got a little bit rocked when food started changing. Moving a mass cafeteria into to-go is a little weird and awkward, but our partners in food service did that well and our students, I haven’t received a single complaint. They understand and they’re rolling with it.

A little bit long-winded, but I hope I hit the essence of it.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah, that’s great.

Scott Rhodes:
Many schools are grappling with moving to online learning. How well prepared were you guys for that?

Richard Dunsworth:
Scott, I’m laughing a little bit because well-prepared at the time, we were and we weren’t. See, here are a couple of things that have happened at the institution over the last couple of years. Two years ago, we went to a one-to-one deployment, so every student, every faculty member and all staff that use technology have been issued an iPad and all materials that can be digital, we’ve gradually moved to that point.

We have what’s called a “learning fee.” You don’t buy books, you don’t order things, they come to you, they’re boxed ready to go. If we can do it digitally, we do it. If it needs to be printed, it’s printed in our library and our IT staff have really moved to them, but our faculty hadn’t. They hadn’t needed to. They were still face-to-face synchronous education.

Over the last seven days, I’ve seen unbelievable action where those that were most comfortable with technology are partnering with some… I have a couple of faculty that are, well, let’s say beyond normal retirement age that have gone, “I don’t know if I can do this,” and you see other faculty saddle up next to them the first couple of days face-to-face.

By Wednesday of last week, it was primarily through technology and on Thursday of last week I saw a faculty meeting that was nothing short of a miracle. Nobody was in the same room. The moderator was in her dining room, I believe at her home, and I’m seeing 50-plus boxes across my screen as folks are having a faculty meeting doing really amazing work and not a single person is in the same room.

Now, how would that unfold a week from now when classes aren’t in session? I don’t know. How does that unfold? The questions about time zones and, “Well, oh, okay. I’m good moving to a technology platform, but I haven’t thought about the fact 20-plus countries and five times zones. What does that look like?” Our faculty are having these amazing conversations. They’re reaching out to their friends, their colleagues, other people that have been in this space for a while.

Quite honestly, Scott, I think it will forever change this institution. We’re still a face-to-face institution and we definitely believe in a liberal arts that’s residentially-based, but I think this will cause us to evolve. How exactly? I don’t know, but I don’t know that there’s ever going back to the way it was for us.

Scott Rhodes:
Wow. What percent of your classes were online before this?

Richard Dunsworth:

Scott Rhodes:

Richard Dunsworth:
We didn’t have online classes. We joined The Consortium this last year, so we had students taking classes online and we were always using technology as a support, but 100% of my faculty are here physically on campus. We had a faculty member this last year that due to family reasons needed to move a couple of hours away and she even said, “If you ever get to a point where you’re ready to go online, I’ve been teaching 20 years, I’d like to figure that out,” and we said, “We’re just not there yet.” That’s the example. I say that I think that faculty member by summer, I bet she’s back on the rolls teaching for us in some other way, but we were pretty firmly rooted in face-to-face synchronous education.

Scott Rhodes:
We see a lot of businesses and colleges moving to where they’re able to have some employees work remote. Do you have some services working remote for your college right now?

Richard Dunsworth:
Sure. As of Wednesday of last week, we were probably half remote and as by the end of Friday, I think I was the last person in the main administration building. I only know that because I was startled when I ran into somebody in the hallway. It had been so quiet here. We have staffs that are running and they’re working and they’re all working from home.

We’ve done an analysis of what it looks like to continue to provide limited services on campus. Let’s do Student Affairs. Student Affairs is working remotely, but yet they have a human presence also during the meal hours so that if someone needs to see them face-to-face, our counseling staff is figuring out how to do mental health counseling just like we are here where we can see each other’s faces and we’re using a platform to provide support.

Our learning support center, when we announced this, they were worried. They beat us to the punch and then started training their tutors how to do online tutoring a week before we made the announcement. We have student workers that are tutoring from around the country and continuing to be compensated as work-study students.

Essential services, my administrative assistant supporting me from 40 miles away and we’re laughing at some of the things that we’ve never talked about before where I post some questions late last week and she’s like, “Well, that’s a new one.” I said, “Well, let’s keep track of these.” I never thought we’d discuss this until we can’t step to the desk and say, “How does this work?” or, “Hey, where do I find X?”

Yes, Scott, we’re all but remote except for fiscal plan, custodial staff, and cafeteria.

Jarrett Smith:
Digging in a little bit and the nuts and bolts practices that you’re using to keep your team connected, now, I know in the past, you’ve done things like a weekly, all-hands stand-up where the team gathers around in the same room. Obviously, that’s not happening now. I know that’s also promoted out to the students and they’re welcome to attend and to hear the staff commiserate on current issues. What’s replaced that now? Has anything replaced that yet? Are there new rituals, new habits that you’re putting in place to serve those same needs?

Richard Dunsworth:
Yes, the same thing’s happening. The tools changed, so we did stand-up last week and we sent out a Zoom invite. I’m not promoting technology, that’s just the one we used, the specific one. We sent out a Zoom invite to all faculty and staff and I grabbed my iPad and I walked into the rotunda of the administration building not knowing what would really happen and we had a dozen people at the physical stand-up and 58 people in virtual stand-up.

Questions started coming in. It was probably one of the more effective ones because the questions came in in cue. Connie, my administrative assistant, was feeding them to me as well as I was also reading them. People that hadn’t ever physically participated in stand-up participated in it remotely. It’s one where we’ve now done a Zoom invite for Monday stand-up to all students, faculty, staff. We included all of our students in it on Monday and we’re going to do it from probably my dining room table at home and my iPad and we’ll see what happens.

Jarrett Smith:
Interesting. One thing I’ve noticed in just our own organization, we have folks that work co-located here in our office and we’ve also had folks working remotely, and this was the first week that as an agency, we’ve been 100% remote.

It’ll be interesting to see if this holds true, but it seems as if the communication by necessity gets a lot more intentional in some regards and that you take it for granted when you’re in the same office, that you may actually be sloppier with your communication maybe because you feel like you don’t have to as much because we’re all in the same room together.

I’ve noticed that personally, and I think I’m seeing this from our staff, that people are getting a lot more intentional about when and how they reach out and how we’re ordering these conversations. Have you seen a similar dynamic? You pointed out that this was one of our more effective stand-ups. Is that a broader trend?

Richard Dunsworth:
More social. Humans, for the most part, are communal and I think the feeling of being in a little bit of a crisis mode nationally has caused folks to re-engage some filters that maybe hadn’t been there where they’re internalizing, “Is this important? Is this necessary?” We’re not seeing as much noise. What used to be called “water-cooler talk” or “talk around the coffee pot,” I mean, that’s not happening.

Maybe it’s they’re trying to sit in the other person’s seat and going, “I bet this person’s getting a lot of information today or a lot of communication. Maybe I don’t need to share this.” I do see that and I think it’s very effective and it’s adding to maybe our ability to work.

The other side of that is without community, what are we? What does it look like when we’re all working remote? How do you maintain those relationships? That’s the tension I think we’re going to walk over the next couple of weeks. It’s going to be one of those questions very similar to what you just posted to me that I’ll post to my senior staff when we’re back face-to-face and saying, “Maybe our weekly staff meetings, what would it look like if we stayed in our offices and then we go to lunch, but that for the work part, we actually do communication like this because it seems to take a lot less time? Time is pretty valuable and increasingly scarce.”

Scott Rhodes:
Have you spoken to any other presidents and if so, are they doing anything different than you?

Richard Dunsworth:
Yes, there are a couple of presidents that I speak to regularly and then also, the Council of Independent Colleges has a pretty well-developed listserve that allows us to create different channels within it and that’s been very, very active over the last couple of weeks. I know that that ranges from “What are you doing about student workers?”, “What are you doing about the library?”, to one of my favorite ones over the last three or four days is the “Wait for it,” and, “You’ll never hear what somebody emailed,” or, “somebody asked,” or, “Can you believe it?” kind of things. We’re also trying to support and give each other levity.

What I’m finding is that most folks are doing what we are. They’ve got a team of people that are coming together in whatever way possible. They’re making the best decisions they can for their respective students and faculty staff and within their given context and that absent some of the larger public systems, it really isn’t a one-size-fits-all, it’s us feeding off of each other’s decisions and then trying to make the best decision for each of us respectively.

Jarrett Smith:
I want to shift gears a little bit. It is the Higher Ed Marketing Lab, so I have to ask a little bit about recruitment and marketing. I think everybody’s assumption right now is that we’re all interested in enrolling classes for this foreseeable future and that’s not stopping anytime soon. Do you forecast any changes to your own school’s recruitment and marketing efforts? Do you see that changing anytime soon? Is it steady as she goes for now? How are you thinking about that?

Richard Dunsworth:
All right, well let’s break that down into students’ subsets. Let’s first start with my current students. The conversation we’ve been having for two weeks is not about retention, it’s about re-recruiting. That’s the language that we’re using is we’ve got to re-recruit our current students every day, every week for the rest of this semester.

What does that look like? That looks like folks in our learning center. That looks like folks in Student Affairs. That looks like everyone but the traditional enrollment staff. I’ve been pretty clear in saying we can’t have admission and financial aid. In normal circumstances, they would be doing this. This isn’t normal. We really need them to focus on new and transfer. We need our current support people to really focus on the recruiting.

Now, I mentioned this is spring break, so part of what I’ve tasked myself with over the next five days is drafting what a re-recruitment plan looks like when we’re remote, when we’re online, when we’re asynchronous, when we aren’t really face-to-face, then we’ll spend the week after spring break implementing that again for our current students.

As it relates to our new students, it is definitely not doing the same because it can’t be. We had a pretty large event scheduled in April it’s called Ozarks Fest. We bring in the scholars that have received specific named scholarships and we congratulate them, we have all sorts of music. It’s a party. It’s a celebration. It’s not a typical admitted student day. It’s a welcome to the family, let’s celebrate you joining us. Well, how do you do that if you can’t do it face-to-face? Those are the kinds of conversations that our vice president for marketing enrollment, Reggie Hill, and his team is evaluating.

What does it look like when you can’t do a campus tour? Well, we still do campus tours. We’re just going to do them virtually. We’re not using a push-in place system, that we’ll actually have students giving campus tours to another individual just like they were, only that individual’s not walking next to them. Is it going to work? I don’t know, but that’s one of the things that we’ve talked about is we’re going to continue to try to deliver the personal message even though it’s not the way we’ve always done it.

Scott Rhodes:
We’ve seen a lot of industries impacted. You look at the bar industry, the restaurant industry being forced to shut down. So far, it looks like colleges and universities have fared fairly well. Do you see any risks for colleges in the future?

Richard Dunsworth:
Yes. We have a fairly significant segment of colleges that were already on a precipice. They’re schools didn’t maybe have very little endowment, very little being under the $10 million mark that may be solely enrollment, tuition-driven. I wonder about them as we start talking about refunds, as we start talking about what does the bottom line look like coming out of this year if you’re returning room and food and parking and all the kind of fees things that help some institutions balance the books.

Those fees are appropriate, but when they’re refunded, but your largest expense being HR or financial aid, those are almost always one, two, or I should say personnel, not HR. Those costs didn’t go away and the number of institutions that already said they’d miss their enrollments and many institutions had been running structural deficits for years. All that’s going to come to a head and there are going to be some boards of trustees over the next six months making really, really tough decisions on what happens next.

I think at the other extreme, what I fear is what happens if you don’t have all those grad students teaching large classes at R1s, that attended two R1s? I believe I got a great education, but what happens when borders are closed and that intellectual capital isn’t moving? What happens with some of those classes and tuition revenue there?

That’s where I think then our states are going to feel it because I think most states, they take great pride in their educational systems. If they have wholesale industry shutdown that limit tax revenue to the state, then they have their name-brand, amazing public institutions that need resources. Where do those resources come from?

I think that’s where it’s going to come down to, Scott, is going, “Where do the resources come from six months from now, nine months from now?” There are some institutions that will weather this okay, they’re well-resourced, well-connected, but there are a whole lot of other institutions that are just not that and it’s going to leave lasting impact.

Scott Rhodes:
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more.

Jarrett Smith:
Obviously, we are in a time, certainly within recent memory, we don’t have anything quite like this, at least from where I sit and I think many other people feel the same way. This is one of those landmark moments in history where afterwards, probably things will never go quite back the way they were and we’ll find a new normal. Reading some of the commentary that folks are already making already about how this may change the way we view things like government, healthcare, the nature of work. There’s going to be a lasting impact here.

I think we have to be careful not to put ourselves in the role of Nostradamus to forecast exactly what’s going to happen. There’s so many things at play right now, but I am curious, what’s on your mind as you’re looking ahead, thinking about maybe the potential for what may change at your institution, what may change at other schools? What may change about the way people view the role of higher education within our broader society? Is there anything that you’re looking to and seeing on the horizon that maybe isn’t guaranteed to happen but it’s a potential at this moment?

Richard Dunsworth:
Yes. I definitely don’t wish to even pretend to be… Mr. Donnison would appreciate my last answer may sounded a little more dire or doom and gloom than it needs to. We have a monthly, what we call “management team.” It’s about 40 or so people across the campus that we meet for 90 minutes and we try to use it as a forward-looking group as we’re moving into some new strategic planning, we’re wrapping up campaign, all those kinds of things, but the meeting a month ago, we talked about roles of innovation.

I was struck then and I’ve been replaying it several times. I’ve replayed it several times since then. One of our staff members said, “We have the ability to be innovative. We have the ability to be creative, but we seem to fear that we also can flex.” I said, “Well, what do you mean by that?” He says, “Well, that it’s easy to think about being creative. It’s easy to talk about being innovative, but what would it look like if we flexed our overall muscle as an institution or as a faculty or as a staff and really said, ‘Well, let’s lean into this. Let’s do something different. Let’s try'”?

I think the last three weeks, at least at this institution, well, folks haven’t thought about the try. They’ve just done it. I think because they haven’t had the time to think about or worry, and maybe they are worrying about it, but they’re just going, “Okay, here’s the problem, let’s move.” I wonder if, as we come back to whatever the new normal is, what might it look like if this institution retains that muscle memory, that retains the ability to say, “Hey, we’re going to move and accept a few mistakes. We’re going to be more tolerant and maybe more forgiving and maybe we offer a little more grace to our colleagues that stubbed their toe, but they didn’t think about trying, they actually did it and they stepped in and they leaned in.”

I think maybe that’s the lesson that’s going to be learned across North America in higher ed, that we can look to the past and take the best of it. Maybe we’re going to be more entrepreneurial, more creative, less rigid and continue to serve students in maybe ways we’ve never even dreamed that we would serve them.

Jarrett Smith:
Very good. Well, I think that’s a fantastic note to wrap up on. President Dunsworth, thank you so much for your time today. It’s been just a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

Richard Dunsworth:
I appreciate you being here and posing the questions. I look forward to looking back on them in a year and seeing what reality is or what reality was as we continue to move through some pretty unchartered territory.

Jarrett Smith:
All right. Thank you, sir.

Scott Rhodes:
Thank you, sir.

Jarrett Smith:
The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full-service marketing firm dedicated to helping schools drive enrollment through modern marketing and enrollment consultant. For more information, visit echodelta.co. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review. As always, if you have questions, suggestions, episode ideas, or just want to reach out and say hi, send us an email at podcast@echodelta.co. We’d love to hear from you.

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Jarrett is our VP of Strategy and the torchbearer for all things digital. Since joining us in 2014, he’s made it his mission to help clients seize the power of smarter marketing strategies—and reap the rewards.

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