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Retaining faith amidst the brutal facts of our current reality

The Stockdale Paradox -- Retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be. - Jim Collins, Good to Great

by Susan Winchester, Chair

Some friends and colleagues say the past 7 months have crept by, while others cannot believe how time has flown as we have all adapted to a new way of life and work. One thing is certainly true for us all, this year has been unlike anything we have ever faced. In times like these I find the Stockdale Paradox to be a valuable reference. The concept was created by Jim Collins and is named for Vietnam POW, Admiral Jim Stockdale. It refers to the dual feelings of hope and realism which together allowed Stockdale to remain mentally and emotionally fortified as a prisoner of war. In his book Good to Great, Collins suggests that a deep understanding of the Stockdale Paradox can be a lesson for success for anyone facing a difficult situation. 

This paradoxical thinking has allowed many to thrive through trying times, and it’s an attitude I have adopted in recent months to maintain faith that our university communities will continue to thrive through the stark realities of a global pandemic, and that the value of a higher education will be even more clear on the other side.

Our role in preparing students for essential careers, including careers in Allied Health, is critical. Oklahoma needs qualified and degreed healthcare professionals to meet the growing need more urgently than ever. RUSO universities are educating Oklahoma’s essential workforce and graduating nurses, doctors of nursing practice, optometrists, pharmacists and forensic scientists, among many other in-demand fields.

I am proud of the way our university communities have responded. Despite the uncertainties of this time, we have risen to the occasion. During this complicated time we have doubled down on our commitment to nondiscrimination by developing a system-wide Title IX policy. Educators and administrators have implemented new processes and learned new technology to pivot to distance learning, where possible. Where physical proximity is important, all six universities acted quickly to ensure students who wished to return to in-person classes were able to do so securely and with campus-wide mask mandates. The safety of our university community will always be our priority.

However, the current reality is that COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations continue to rise across the state of Oklahoma. We are reminded of the brutal truth that the virus is still very present and potentially dangerous to our university communities. The campus mask and distancing mandates at all six universities can only offer so much protection. It is up to each individual to make smart, safe choices – and encourage the same of colleagues, students and friends - while on campus and off.

The reports from campus, and from our presidents, give me hope and faith for the future. Students and our university community are adhering to mask requirements and staying mindful of social distancing guidelines while focusing on the task at hand – education.


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