Is your institution prepared for Election Day? EAB’s advice on urgent to dos for institutional leaders

Expert Insight

Is your institution prepared for Election Day? EAB’s advice on urgent to dos for institutional leaders

The current state: limited mindshare for anything beyond COVID-19 even with a polarizing election looming

Higher education leaders are confronting the crisis of their career. The pandemic, racial violence, civil unrest, an uncertain financial future—each alone presents monumental difficulties.

Currently, cabinet leadership is consumed with COVID-19 and confronting an infinite number of questions with no easy answers. So much mindshare is given to responding to crises in real-time that little attention is paid to future destabilizing events, in particular, the U.S. presidential election just a few short weeks away.

As a result, administrators may be crossing their fingers and hoping their institution won’t be affected by the election. Many campuses took a similar approach in 2016 and were subsequently caught off-guard by the fury and fervor that followed President Trump’s win like racist graffiti and flyers, spikes in counseling center visits, and students feeling silenced. The 2020 election promises to be even more contentious and divisive.

Why you can’t wait until election night to take action

This unprecedented presidential election is also a unique moment to design frameworks for addressing long overdue equity concerns on campuses that gained momentum in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests this summer. As such, election night should not be the first time your administration discusses how the partisan environment, polarized discourse, and election results might impact your campus community.

Higher education leaders must be regularly and actively engaged in preparing for the 2020 election to normalize behaviors and response protocols. But what does response look like on a multi-modal campus? How do administrators avoid common failure paths when it comes to addressing campus incidents?

Risk identification and information sharing are key first steps but other gaps remain

Risk identification is the first step. Risk registers should be updated regularly and include reputational risks. To track potential risks that move quickly through social media many institutions are making investments in media monitoring platforms. However, administrators can drown in monitoring data and struggle to know when and how to act. University taskforces must coordinate information gathering and sharing at the cabinet level to plan an effective crisis response – challenging to do in normal times, but much harder now given a multi-modal environment where activities like on-the-ground protests can evolve into inflammatory social media threads and vice versa.

Another common misstep is lack of clarity and varying leadership perspectives on when and how to respond not only to campus incidents, but political issues on a national and global level. Institutional leadership must proactively set expectations with the campus community about what they will and will not comment on.

Getting ahead of election flashpoints now: schedule EAB’s new interactive cabinet exercise to prepare now

To help institutions get ahead of and manage potential 2020 election flashpoints, EAB experts are conducting interactive cabinet exercises with senior leaders. In these sessions, experts share five common failure paths to responding to flashpoints and how to avoid them. Cabinet leaders then engage in guided simulations to anticipate potential crises, accelerate decision-making, and identify critical vulnerabilities in their existing policies. Contact your institution’s strategic leader to schedule an interactive session in the coming weeks.

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