How Can the Academic Community Recover from the Impact of COVID-19

There is no question that COVID-19 has had and is having a severe impact on faculty throughout US colleges and universities. This is reflected in all areas of their work, including research, teaching, tenure and promotion and service. Findings of a recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey of faculty stress which surveyed 1,122 faculty members at four-year and two-year institutions around the nation of whom 50% were tenured and the remaining tenure-track, non-tenured, part time and adjunct faculty, revealed the extreme changes in stress levels that faculty underwent. The results of the survey were as follows:

Stress Levels



Extremely 9% 33%
Very 23% 36%
Somewhat 8% 21%
A little 24% 7%
Not at all 6% 2%

When the faculty were asked to identify the causes of their dissatisfaction and what would improve their satisfaction, 53% percent of the sample said increased compensation, 46% said modifications to teaching schedules or loads, and 34% cited new technology or better access to technology support.

At the same time, the research efforts and consequent funding levels of faculty have been drastically reduced. Many faculty were unable to go to their labs, schedule meetings with colleagues and connect with donor agencies, which has resulted in difficulties which may have long term effects. More than almost two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the scientific community is still feeling the effects of the vastly disruptive event — and may for many years to come.

Northwestern University led study found that although researchers’ productivity levels have mostly returned to pre-pandemic highs, scientists who did not pursue COVID-19 related research initiated 36% fewer new projects in 2021 compared to 2019. This dramatic decline in new projects suggests the pandemic’s impact on science may be longer lasting than commonly imagined (Dashung Wang – Nature Communications).

What Can Be Done?

Administrative support of faculty:

Although it is also true that the university administrators have been and continue to be at a loss of what to do, ongoing communication with faculty could begin to alleviate some of the problems. Faculty feedback that is taken seriously and implemented can greatly increase faculty confidence and reduce stress.

Rewarding faculty efforts in research:

Institutions throughout the US wish to stand-out as research institutions with high productivity on the part of their faculty; however, it is not unusual to want faculty to “produce” without a reward system in place. This is especially the case with teaching institutions where the teaching load is such that it does not allow time for productive research and for seeking funding.

Modifications of teaching schedules and loads:

Hybrid teaching approaches, now becoming more and more common, may increase faculty loads for some. While some faculty can easily adapt to these new approaches, others cannot, and as a consequence may lose the quality time they need to pursue research and grant funding.

Increasing support infrastructures for grant writing:

In the wake of COVID-19 many sponsored research offices have reduced staff and administrative support services previously given to faculty. Fortifying such services as team building, rewards for interdisciplinary research, training of faculty, and content reviews and editing of proposals can go a long-way toward alleviating the effects of COVID-19.

This is only the beginning of the introspection and creativity needed to address the post COVID-19 world for colleges and universities. Not only do institutions need to tackle the immediate concerns of faculty members, but broader issues such as tenure, promotion, and economic and philosophical support for faculty research need to be addressed.  At the end of the day, how institutions deal with the fallout of COVID-19 in the short and long term will define the recovery of the academic community.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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