College leaders may be feeling some relief as the spring semester draws to a close. The arrival of May means that many of them officially survived the first wave of important decisions required to respond to COVID-19. As I wrote a few weeks ago, those leaders who put people first as they made these decisions and communicated with vulnerability, kindness and empathy were most likely to get the best results.
As we enter summer, though, college presidents, provosts and deans are facing the next wave of decisions, which looks even more menacing than the first. A striking number of institutions have announced plans to resume in-person instruction in the fall, requiring an unfathomable level of logistical coordination. Nearly a dozen states have announced or started preparing for budget cuts, forcing some public college leaders to consider phasing out academic programs and laying off faculty and staff. For some small private colleges, the loss of tuition or housing revenue in the fall could be financially catastrophic.