3 Texas Educators On Ethical Leadership In This Moment

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Each of us makes numerous ethical decisions every day, but for educators preparing for fall 2020 amidst the persistence of Covid-19 in the US, those choices feel particularly consequential right now. We asked three seasoned educators from different colleges and universities in Texas to weigh in on how they approach ethical decision making at this moment.  

None of these questions is easy. Do we hold classes in person, virtually, or with a hybrid model? When do we change course, what evidence will that require and how will we communicate that shift? How do we foster physical health and safety alongside economic security and educational outcomes? Given our diverse community, how do we prioritize competing goods? Interfaith leadership is made for these moments, for the genuinely hard questions. We know that our students are learning a great deal in the midst of this pandemic – about adaptive leadership in an ever-changing landscape, ethical decision making in a diverse democracy, and what people and institutions truly value.  

Amelia Koford is an Associate Professor, the Outreach & Information Literacy Librarian, and Director of the Center for Women’s Studies at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas.  

One of the most heartbreaking parts of this pandemic is the way it is reinforcing existing inequities. Here in Texas, for example, the Latinx community is being hit disproportionately with Covid-19 cases and deaths. As university leaders, our responses to injustice are informed by our individual religious and ethical traditions, as well as shared community values. At Texas Lutheran University, the institution’s deep commitment to the common good is rooted in its Lutheran heritage. Our values lead us to consistently ask questions about equity, even though our efforts can feel incomplete and imperfect. Leaders have to make a lot of decisions this summer and fall, and we should examine each decision for their impact on students and staff who live in poverty and deal with various oppressions. I’m a librarian, and modern academic libraries are loud and boisterous spaces where students collaborate, ask for help, and build an intellectual life together. That will look different this fall – we’ve removed a lot of chairs, and people will mostly be sitting alone and looking at screens. Librarians will still help students get the resources they need, but the way we do it will feel imperfect, especially since our attention will also be on caring for our own children, elders, and others in our communities. I am a Unitarian Universalist with a secular worldview, and I will draw on my religious community to help me accept the imperfection and uncertainty of life this fall. There are no perfect answers about how to operate during a pandemic, and that’s hard. The best we can do is to maintain transparency and communication, look to science and experts for guidance, keep equity in mind, and draw on the strength and hope that we find in our common purpose and our care for each other.   

Zahra Jamal is the Associate Director of the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance at Rice University in Houston, Texas. 

We live in a culturally, religiously, and ethnically diverse world. Pluralistic attitudes require that we understand, value, and honor that diversity, especially when it is hard to do so. So for me, ethical leadership entails: 

  1. viewing the world and its challenges and opportunities through an ethical lens, which for many, is rooted in faith or philosophical tradition;  

  1. listening to, understanding, validating, and learning from diverse perspectives we do not share or do not like because we are all members of a single human family who issue from a single soul; 

  1. analyzing and resolving problems in collaboration with others (including those with whom we disagree) where each applies their respective moral reasoning to those problems;   

  1. remaining intellectually and spiritually humble in the process, recognizing that none of us has all the answers and that together we can co-create more equitable and inclusive solutions; 

  1. finding the courage to make, articulate, and uphold difficult choices that honor and enable the dignity, belonging, and value of all stakeholders

I think it’s also important to maintain self-care while caring for others. If we burn out, we can’t serve anyone. For me, self-care involves proper nutrition, exercise, lifelong learning, abstaining from substances, and constant remembrance of God, gratitude, compassion, and forgiveness. It also entails focusing on what I can control and helping others do the same, prioritizing essentials, being flexible and resourceful, connecting on a human level, delivering unexpected rewards, resources, and support to others.  

Britt Luby is Associate Chaplain at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. Her work focuses on religious literacy and interfaith leadership, grief support for students coping with loss, and pastoral care/spiritual development for young adults. 

676 people in my county are in a hospital bed due to Covid-19 today. The decisions I wrestled with last summer seem juvenile compared to the moral dilemmas I face now. Last summer, it was this: should we go swimming in the morning or the afternoon? This summer, it is this: how likely are we to catch the virus in a swimming pool? How likely are we to give this virus to our aging parents? How likely are they to survive?  

In two weeks, the moral questions move to the residence halls, the classrooms, and other spaces on the TCU campus where I serve as a chaplain. Performative hygiene will settle some of our anxiety. But as the virus travels in our conversations, our breaths, how can we honor the dignity of every single human life on our campus?  

As a cradle Catholic, I use Catholic social teaching as my moral compass. I believe human dignity comes from God, not from any human accomplishment, and that every person is worthy of respect. The cruel path of the virus into the bodies of the most vulnerable, a path compounded by the festering wounds of racism, weighs heavy on my spirit. I do not envy those who are making tough decisions about campus reopening. My sphere of influence is laughably small, and all I can offer are tangible ways to honor the dignity of others. Today, it looks like this: though my heart is broken, my hands are washed; while my soul is weary, my mask is on.   

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.