Care in the Academy: A Path to Transform Higher Education and Combat Burnout


Brett Christie, Vice President of Educational Innovation & Inclusivity, Alchemy, Kimberly Vincent-Layton (Cal Poly Humboldt), Megan Eberhardt-Alstot (California State University-Channel Islands)

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In the wake of the global pandemic, higher education has faced unprecedented challenges, from financial pressures to adapting to new teaching modalities. These stressors compound long-standing issues, such as racial disparities, socio-economic barriers, and gender-based discrimination. The toll on administrators, faculty, and staff has been immense, resulting in widespread burnout and exhaustion. To address this crisis and pave the way for a more compassionate and just future in academia, the “Care in the Academy” (CITA) project, led by Catherine Denial at Knox College and supported by the Mellon Foundation, has emerged as a beacon of hope.

Project Overview

The Care in the Academy project is a transformative initiative that seeks to prioritize compassion and care as core values within higher education. It acknowledges that the challenges faced by institutions are multifaceted and require a holistic approach centered on
the well-being of every member of the campus community. This project strives to identify, nurture, and support faculty and staff from all sectors of higher education, recognizing the vital role compassion plays in creating lasting structural change.

Expanding Compassion Beyond the Classroom One of the central tenets of the Care in the Academy project is the belief that compassion and care can extend beyond the classroom into every aspect of a campus community. The project asks a fundamental question: What does it mean to imagine and create structural change rooted in the principle of compassion? To answer this question, the project is divided into phases and teams focused on specific areas of concern.

Phase One: Identifying Key Areas

In Phase One of the project, thirty-six higher education administrators, faculty, and staff organized into three teams to address critical concerns:

Trauma: How can we ensure that our interactions with and support of all campus and community members are trauma-informed, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic?

Disability: How can academia address and transform ableism, both inside and outside the classroom, particularly in the context of the pandemic’s effects on teaching, learning, and working?

Pedagogy: What does it mean to practice a pedagogy of care that extends to faculty and staff grappling with the impacts of the pandemic on instructional methods and student engagement?

All three CITA teams approached these questions with a commitment to justice, seeking to challenge the status quo and promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in academia. They conducted extensive research and identified actionable steps to bring about meaningful change.

Phase Two: Campus-Level Action

In February 2023, the project moved into Phase Two, where participants formed teams based on their institution’s type, including R1 institutions, regional public universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. This phase also included a team of faculty and staff who may not readily identify with a particular campus “type,” so that the project addresses the diversity of experiences within higher ed. These teams are tasked with implementing care-focused initiatives that are tailored to their specific campus needs. The objectives include prioritizing the findings from Phase One, identifying supportive individuals and departments, and taking concrete steps to integrate care into the academic environment.

Furthermore, Phase Two involves discussions about securing additional funding for this crucial work, both at the individual campus level and nationally. This recognition of the need for sustained financial support underscores the project’s commitment to making long-term, systemic changes in higher education.


The Care in the Academy project is a visionary initiative that seeks to revolutionize higher education by making compassion and care central to its mission. In the face of burnout, crises, and systemic issues, this project represents a ray of hope for a more just and equitable future in academia. Elizabeth (Liz) Lehfeldt of Cleveland State University, the co-facilitator for this project, will present a plenary talk at the “Breaking the Cycle of Burnout and Charting a Path for the Future” event, offering insights into the project’s objectives and the potential it holds for transforming higher education. As we navigate these challenging times, the Care in the Academy project serves as a beacon of hope, guiding the way towards a more compassionate and sustainable future for academia.

Join Carrie O’Donnell (CEO/Founder) and Brett Christie, Ph.D. (VP, Educational Innovation & Inclusivity) of Alchemy at the OLC Leadership Network Symposium on Tuesday, October 24, 2023 for their session focused on “Navigating Faculty Burnout and Overload in the Digital Learning Era.”

See what else in store at Accelerate 2023, later this month!

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