Progress, Not Perfection
Dean of Students David Tuttle injects humor into crisis management
Thursday, May 14, 2020
tuttle working from home
David tuttle headshot

We asked Dean of Students David Tuttle to bring his sense of humor to an insider view of Trinity’s crisis management response to COVID-19.

I have been on the Trinity crisis management team (CMT) since its inception 20 years ago. I am the sole survivor on the CMT and have been through more drills, drafted (then scrubbed, then repackaged) more plans, and edited more phone trees than anyone on campus. It is mind-numbing work.

Unfortunately, in 1992 I watched a made-for-TV movie called Crash Landing, which ruined me. Richard Thomas (John Boy) plays a hated crisis manager at an Iowa airport who drilled his colleagues into despising him. Then, flight 232 crashed in their cornfield and he was a hero. A cautionary tale: Keep. Attending. Meetings. 

Everyone's biggest campus emergency fear is an active shooter. Such an incident is deadly and usually requires an immediate law enforcement response. Loss of life is inevitable, followed by chaos and miscommunication, as texts, posts, photos, and tweets jump notification protocols.

Such out-of-nowhere catastrophes are most troubling (add fires and tornadoes). The slow movers, you can at least see them coming (hurricanes, flus, Bob Hearts Abishola). But a pandemic? I often shrugged my shoulders. Like an alien invasion, plague of toads and locusts, or nuclear disaster, my refrain always seemed apt: "Well, if that happens, the world has bigger problems." 

Turns out, we did. I know that Ivan (our John Boy) looks forward to our after-action crisis review, because, of course. But really, do I need to keep a list for how I will react differently for the next pandemic-like crisis? Perhaps. 

When the coronavirus hit the news, I really was not interested. I was more focused on the Spurs missing the playoffs, so this disaster (the virus, not the Spurs) seemed a world away, literally. Then, everything changed at a break-neck pace. The first two weeks were all about reactions, and it seemed like we were all in one long meeting.  And of course, in every meeting, there is someone who thinks they are the smartest person in the room, talks too much, and is combative. I am usually that person. But I am proud of the way my colleagues stepped up and responded. I learned a lot about the character of the University.

Indeed, I am proud of a lot of people: the president for his leadership, the CMT, our students for rolling with the punches, the Student Government Association, the Trinitonian, our parents, the faculty who had to do a major pivot into remote learning, and wonderful staff members who continue to work tirelessly to plan, make contingencies, and face new challenges.

We haven't been perfect, for sure. All of the preparation in the last two decades couldn't prepare us for this. But the foundations that were built, the care for health and safety, the student-centered focus, the collegiality, the emphasis on communication, and the commitment to excellence have served us well. Fortunately we didn't lose lives as they did at that Iowa airport. We did find our way, though, as a CMT and University. While I wouldn't want to do this again, I wouldn't want to do it anywhere else. 

David Tuttle came to Trinity University in 1987 as an area coordinator in Residential Life. He says he always felt bad for the poor sap who would have to follow Coleen Grissom as dean of students. He has been in ten offices on campus and four residences and says he has longevity here, if nothing else.

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