Across the last few years, flashpoints have become commonplace at colleges and universities. In our current landscape—characterized by heightened emotional states, polarized political environments, and perceptions among some faculty that administration may not always have their best interest in mind—academic leaders are spending more time grappling with and addressing these incidents.
Through our research with partners, we saw how the provost and other academic leaders increasingly feel community pressure to respond to complex flashpoints that occur outside of the academic affairs division, or sometimes even external to the institution (e.g., natural disasters, life-altering political decisions), especially when they want to reassure faculty that their well-being is top of mind.
These flashpoints can deeply affect individual faculty members’ well-being, and the way their academic leaders respond (or don’t) can heavily influence faculty perceptions of how much the institution cares about and prioritizes their well-being. When faculty don’t feel like their leaders will prioritize their well-being in the face of threats, it can lead to increased distraction at work due to feeling unsafe, threatened, anxious, and frustrated. While some faculty might be deeply impacted by an emerging flashpoint, others might not necessarily think the institution should acknowledge it, which further complicates the issue.
Reflect on when to respond to a flashpoint
Weighing the tradeoffs between responding or not responding to a specific flashpoint can be challenging. As a result, EAB created the reflection questions below to help academic leaders decide when to respond.
Impact on faculty
- How will this flashpoint impact faculty perceptions of physical or psychological safety?
- Will this flashpoint impact faculty well-being?
- Will this flashpoint disproportionately impact any marginalized groups on campus?
- Am I (the provost) the appropriate voice for this response?
- Can I (the provost) clearly articulate why I am responding to this flashpoint and why this flashpoint matters specifically to faculty at my institution?
- How does my response as provost align with other statements made by my institution about this topic or event and/or my institution’s mission, priorities, and goals?
Response risks and impact
- How might choosing to issue or not issue a public response to this flashpoint impact campus climate, faculty perceptions of support, or the student experience?
- Does this response do more harm than good if I (the provost) am unable to include next-step resources or insight into how leadership plans to take action to support faculty in response to this flashpoint?
- Would responding to this flashpoint stand out when compared to leadership responses to previous flashpoints? For example, could responding leave some community members wondering why a similar response was not made to an earlier flashpoint in the past few years?
Consider adding these elements to bolster support in your flashpoint response
If you decide to respond to a flashpoint in your capacity as an academic leader, it’s important that your response is timely, supportive, and aligns with messaging from your cabinet and university communications. Below is a checklist to help maximize your flashpoint response.
A strong flashpoint response helps address faculty concerns, directs impacted individuals to support, and builds trust with faculty by demonstrating commitment to employee well-being. Consider these reflection questions and checklist items before you approach your next flashpoint response.
You guide to manage campus climate flashpoints
Our roadmap will help campus leaders prepare for flashpoints before they arise, convene a climate risk team, and more.