Monday, November 19, 2012


On Sunday evening, after thirteen days, the electricity came back on.  By the time it returned, my wife, kids, our dog, and I had moved into a neighbor’s den and had adjusted as well as possible.  We consider ourselves to be fortunate that we only lost electricity; Sandy’s impact in this area was devastating and there are many people at the University and in the greater community who have lost homes, cars, furnishings, computers, etc.   I do believe the local utility was not as well prepared as it should have been and I think the multiple investigations that are taking place are thoroughly justified.  There needs to be accountability and there needs to be change; the lessons learned can only serve us well if we are better prepared in the future.

But while the focus is rightly on what the Long Island Power Authority did and did not do, attention should also be paid to rigidities in our system that at key moments can be totally counterproductive.  The ability of public schools to reopen and remain open provides a clear example.  One of the most challenging side effects of Hurricane Sandy was the momentary gasoline shortage.  Deliveries of gas were limited and many gas stations had lost power and were unable to open even though they had gas on hand.  For school districts in this area, the busing of students is a mainstay that most parents rely on.  But what should happen if there is insufficient gas to power the school buses but the schools are ready in all other aspects to open up and continue educating our kids.  The state laws are clear; the schools need to stay closed if the buses are unavailable.  Now think about the situation we were facing— almost half the community had lost power for more than a few days.  Homes were cold; kids were cold; and the novelty of losing electricity had quickly worn off being replaced by a heightened stress level on the part of kids and adults alike.  Most of the schools had power, were warm, had internet access, and were ready to do their part in educating our children.  The environment was welcoming, the senses of normalcy important, the teachers able to educate and be supportive, but we could only take advantage of these benefits if the fleet of buses were fully operative.

 I know that not having buses would place a strain on parents, especially given the shortage of gasoline for private cars as well as school district buses.  I know that our tax money pays for the bus service and this is an important entitlement.  The law as noted above is clear, no buses even in an emergency situation, no school, but does this make sense?  Having school continue or resume quickly, providing warmth and comfort to our kids even without bus service is better than none of the above.  In an exceptional time and at an exceptional moment, our system and our rules and regulations need to be nimble.  The post Sandy review needs to look at more than how well we are doing on the electric and gas front; it also needs to look—across the board—at the policies that guide us in these critical moments.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Over the years, I have participated in many telephone interviews of potential candidates for positions at Hofstra as well as for not-for-profit boards that I have participated on. Interviewing candidates in this way has always struck me as second best (but certainly better than not participating). Inevitably you miss much of the back and forth that takes place, you miss some of the reaction of the candidate and that of board members, and you seem somewhat out of sync with what is happening. In between interviews, at those times when there are multiple interviews scheduled, there are also typically multiple conversations of the board members present and here too it is very hard to participate in a meaningful way.

I have also participated in board meeting over the phone and have even participated in a few teleconference board meetings a number years ago. Phone board meetings have the same disjointed feel that interviews have, and the early teleconferencing was often somewhat of a blur with resolution that matched my vision when I’m not wearing glasses. And then there were those cases where the video and audio were not quite synchronized, which is just plain annoying. Or those cases where I needed to go to a special facility on campus to participate.

You can imagine how pleased I was when an academic consortium of provosts that the University belongs to, decided to interview three candidates for the executive director position by teleconferencing. The candidates and the present executive director would be at the home school of the consortium with that provost present, and two additional provosts, including me, would participate by teleconference. Of course, there was the alternative of traveling to Virginia but that would turn three hours worth of interviews into at least a full day away from the office.

Everything I needed was on a laptop on my desk and at the appointed hour of 5:15 I connected. There on the screen was the person being interviewed, the “home” provost and the present executive director, the other provost participating and me. All right in front of me, all crystal clear, and each of the three interviews and the conversations in between and at the end worked as well as if we were all there in person. Going forward, I will certainly make use of this capability much more frequently. And now that I think about it, since I have used “facetime” on an iPhone and iPad a number of times with good success, I don’t know why I was so reluctant in this case to take advantage of the benefits of technology. So much of what we do and especially how we do it has changed and overall the advantages clearly outweigh any disadvantages.

Monday, November 5, 2012


It is now Monday morning and we are resuming classes today.  The campus has been very fortunate.  Our loss of power was limited and of short duration and the campus damage was mostly limited to trees with very little other damage.  Long Island’s damage was extensive with reports of 100,000 homes lost and almost 300,000 homes still without power 5 days later.  The devastation on the north shore and south shore of the Island was massive.  Lights are still out at key intersections, gas lines at those few stations that are open are often 100 cars long.  Mass transit is returning but still disrupted and we are now hearing reports of a nor’easter by the middle of this week. Recovery will take a long time.  Adjusting to the return of heat and hot water at home, once it arrives again, will not take a long time. Instantaneous is exactly how long it will take me to adjust and to be thankful for this one important step toward normalcy. For many of my colleagues a return to normalcy, given the significant property devastation, will be much more difficult.

Closing for the week has made sense.  Given everything that members of our community have been through we could not have held classes this week.  Even the commute has become much more difficult and much riskier.  Our president has reached out to all members of the community in an effort to provide and coordinate support for those members of our community with the greatest need.  The outreach is very much needed. And to the credit of the community, we have already had offers of support from all constituencies but more support is needed and coordination is key to having the help available go to those with the greatest need.

We need to make up for the lost time in class and I know we can determine ways to do so effectively so that the learning that should take place in a course does in fact take place.  But there can be no one approach that will meet the needs of all our faculty and all our students and flexibility on all parts is essential.  Some faculty and students (as well as administrators and staff) have lost their homes; some have lost their computers as well as key books and papers; others have no phone or internet access; and with the shortage of gas and the limits of mass transit, some members of our community will not be able to get here.  In some cases, all of the above applies and the hardships are multiple and formidable.

In my role as a school board member, I have already heard from the superintendent that he expects to open schools today after also having been closed for the week.  Many of the kids in our district will be going to school, even though they still have no power at home and their sense of normalcy seems seriously compromised..  Here too we need to be flexible and recognize that many  kids have felt the trauma in their lives that we all work so hard to shield them from.  I know the life lesson is important and so is the message regarding the importance of resuming education ASAP. I fully support the schools reopening quickly  and I am sure that the community feels equally supportive.

In a difficult time, what members of the community do makes all the difference. We can’t waive away the devastation; we can’t just turn the power  on; and we can’t just instantly return to normal.  We can do the best we can to make a positive difference and to cope with adversity. I see more and more instances of members of our community doing what needs to be done and I am thankful for their good work.   And at the end of the day it will be the resilience of people that once again makes the difference (as it has before in so many tragedies around the globe) and allows us to move forward.