Managing the virtual campus

by Alexandra den Heijer

While academic communities involuntarily test the virtual campus model on a world-wide scale in the coronavirus crisis, our urgent tasks are alternated with lingering thoughts about the future of practically everything. Ironically, I am in the process of finishing my book “Campus of the future – managing a matter of solid, liquid and gas” …

… which brings back memories of writing my dissertation “Managing the university campus”, when our own Architecture building went up in flames in 2008. It is hard to get another word on paper, when an extreme scenario becomes reality.

2019 - Campus of the future - solid liquid gas - Alexandra den Heijer inaugural speech

“The campus of the future is a combination of solid, liquid and gas” – from traditional campus model to virtual model (and back) – slide from my inaugural speech November 13, 2019, see DOWNLOADS for other slides and link to online speech

What we did in 2008 after the fire, was focusing on emergency management and at the same time on making notes about what we observed, which eventually led to publications and presentations about lessons learned (see case BK city). Health and safety first, but social needs are next in Maslov’s hierarchy of needs. Creating a place to meet was essential for a sense of belonging to a group after the fire. This needs to be a virtual place to meet now.

In the past days, our Campus Research Team also discussed our responsibility to study “what currently happens on campus” – or rather “off-campus” – and to report about this. My American colleague, Georgiatech professor Michael Haggans, has already invited people to send him experiences with the current state of the virtual campus – see his recent blog post “Campus closed”.

As a team of researchers, we will also keep track of the creative, inspiring, moving and unusual (or even unbelievable) examples we find of managing the university and the 100% virtual campus in these surreal times, including how universities are using the physical campus (empty student residences, laboratories and research equipment) for emergency matters. How flexible and adaptable we are to change.

But even though we cherish both the improvisation and creativity in our own academic communities, we share the strong feelings of uncertainty about the future, ranging from our individual worries & fears about health and our loved ones… to the stress about the long-term effects on all of our lives. We know there is a system change ahead, also in higher education, and there is time for contemplation now… with the hope that also this crisis brings opportunities.

Stay well – wishing you all the best in this surreal times…

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