Fr. Tomy Augustine Kumplankal, Salesian College

The Need for Emotional and Spiritual Well-being

Father Tomy Augustine Kumplankal, the rector of Salesian College in Sonada, Darjeeling, India, highlights five qualities he considers most important for higher education leaders: emotional and spiritual well-being, personal integrity, the capacity to adapt and change, the ability to lead with head and heart, and the ability to synergize. Leading Salesian College during the pandemic has required him to lean on all five of those qualities. COVID-19 forced Salesian College to shut down abruptly, creating anxiety among both staff and students. “They were anxious about completing the syllabus and having the examinations on time,” Father Tomy reported. “Social distancing was imposed and movements were restricted, and as a result, campus life and activity came to a halt.” That left members of the campus community feeling disconnected from friends and lonely.

Adaptation began immediately. “We had a weekly online survey to assess the impact of lockdown on students and faculty,” Father Tomy said. “Within a week our tech team put in place an online Moodle platform for classes, webinars, and assessments.” Those steps helped to restore the bond between students and the faculty. And, with the benefit of hindsight, Father Tomy sees how the challenge of responding to COVID-19 created a new learning opportunity. “Students and faculty became well versed in the use of online platforms and explored e-resources for learning and imparting knowledge.”

The Salesian College campus, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Responding to the pandemic, however, often placed tremendous pressure on college and university leaders. The United Board’s five-part webinar series, “Leading Through Crisis,” highlighted some ways that leaders can manage the strain.  “I deeply appreciate some of the insights shared in the webinars,” Father Tomy said. “The need for the emotional and spiritual well-being of the leader, and the truths and myths (personal competing beliefs) about leadership were eye-opening insights.” Listening to webinar speakers describe the hurdles they encountered and the ways in which they cultivated resiliency resonated with him.

Father Tomy was a 2012-2014 United Board Fellow, and he credits that experience with broadening his understanding of leadership and management, organizational structure, instructional strategies, and campus life. The recent webinar discussions helped connect the value of those skills with the importance of personal and spiritual development. “It struck me that a leader in higher education needs to be a ‘whole person’ before he can lead his colleagues and students,” Father Tomy said. “Other insights I liked most were about the capacity for change, flexibility, and transformation as well as the spirituality of compassion to students and involvement in society as an integral part of higher education.”