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Revoking A Recognition

Revoking an honorary degree is a very serious and highly unusual occurrence but that is exactly what Middlebury College, an elite private school in Vermont, did in January.

Rudy Giuliani, the college’s commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient in 2005 was presented the honor for his leadership as mayor of New York City after the September 11 World Trade Center attack. He was stripped of this recognition by the school’s trustees as a result of his role in the January 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol (http://middleburycampus.com).

Things like that are never supposed to happen, but humans being human, sometimes they do. When a recipient’s behavior reflects poorly on the school and becomes a public relations liability, revoking a recognition can become necessary. This is especially true in the case of honorary degrees, academia’s highest honor, one of the purposes of which is to enable the school to voluntarily affiliate with a prominent person and thereby bask in the reflected glory of his or her achievements.

Human behavior can also cause problems with a variety of other prestigious recognitions. One school is currently dealing with how to disassociate from a well-known alumnus who was recently arrested for running a child pornography ring, being involved in human trafficking, and dealing drugs. As a prominent businessman, frequent and generous major donor, and former alumni president, his name is on plaques, pavers, and the rolls of distinguished award recipients across campus.

Another school faced the embarrassing removal of the name of an alumnus who was a beloved high-profile sports celebrity from its new alumni center after the man reneged on a multi-million-dollar pledge. His bravado had ignited and led the campaign to design and build the center, a project that while needed, was far beyond the reach of institutional budgets. The school saluted his enthusiasm by prematurely naming the building in his honor. Turns out he never had the money and the university was stuck trying to pay for a building it could not afford.

While the vetting process for honorary degrees is usually careful, and selection committees deliberate thoughtfully before choosing recipients of annual awards, past performance doesn’t necessarily guarantee that today’s honorees will be the enduring positive examples that trustees and committees hope for.

Give Yourself an Out

Just like well-crafted emergency plans for use in case of disaster, every set of award criteria should include a written mention about if, why, and how recognitions could be rescinded. This practice can also be extended to job descriptions for members elected to campus governing bodies and advisory boards. Craft such statements in the hope that they will never be needed and set a high bar for implementation. Having a way out should never be so easy that the process could be overused for reasons of politics or petty disagreements.

With spring commencement only a few months away, now is a good time to review honorary degree, award, and board member criteria and consult with campus counsel to be certain you are covered in the unlikely event that yesteryear’s hero becomes today’s disgrace.

For more information about honorary degrees, see my blog post “Alexander Hamilton to Get Honorary Degree,” or order my book, Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol available from the online bookstore at http://case.org.

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The Mace Was Missed

Eagle-eyed ceremony planners no doubt noticed a traditional symbol was missing from the platform at President Biden’s inauguration. The Mace of the Republic which symbolizes the authority of the House of Representatives was not present.

On a typical inauguration day, the House of Representatives goes into session, then recesses to walk as a group to witness the ceremony. The sergeant of arms, carrying the mace, leads a procession of the members of the House and stands behind them holding it throughout the inauguration. This year, due to Covid-19 restrictions, the House did not go in to session on January 20 so the mace was not used in the ceremony.

Crafted in 1841 after the British destroyed our country’s original mace when they burned the Capitol during the War of 1812, the mace has 13 ebony rods representing the 13 original colonies. It is topped by a silver eagle perched on a silver globe. It symbolizes the authority of the House and is always present when the House is in session. It is carried in to the chamber each legislative day and posted on a green marble pedestal on the rostrum to the right of the Speaker. It is occasionally presented in front of an unruly member to restore order.

Academic Mace

The tradition of mace as symbols of authority dates to the Middle Ages when mace were used as war clubs. The roots of the practice can be traced as far back as ancient Rome. An academic mace symbolizes the authority invested in the president by a school’s governing body. Much like the Mace of the Republic and the House of Representatives, when the authority is present, the mace is present. This is why the mace is an integral part of commencement exercises, when students are invested of degrees by the lawful authority of the university, and why the mace plays an important ceremonial role in academic presidential inaugurations.

While some schools possess an ancient mace, the article can be created at any time in a school’s history. Maces are often commissioned to commemorate a milestone anniversary or presidential inauguration, frequently incorporating artifacts, precious stones, and rare wood.

When to Use the Mace

The mace is used only on formal academic occasions, such as commencement, convocations, and presidential inaugurations, when participants are in full regalia and the president is involved.

Because the mace is a symbol of presidential authority as the university’s legal representative with the right to govern, it is carried in procession immediately before the president. When the mace is present, the authority of the university is present.

More information about how to use a mace on campus is available in my book, Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol, available from CASE at case.org.

 

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Resolve to be Civil

January had already begun and I hadn’t decided on a New Year’s resolution. After last week’s violence in Washington, D.C., I now know what it is: To conscientiously practice civility.

I believe the uncivil, nasty, screaming, name-calling, suspicion-building, “cancelling” devolution of our culture that has been on display for the past year is a large contributor in bringing us to this moment. We have lost the important ability to listen and treat others respectfully, when we don’t agree with them and even when we do.  “I’m right, you’re not.” “I can’t win unless you lose,” is the new operating standard.

I think the little things we do personally every day add up to show a much bigger picture of who we are as a society. Our nation’s current incivility and intolerance is death by a thousand cuts because it validates and enables more of the same. This is evidenced not only by the behavior of politicians and anonymous people on social media, but in our everyday interactions with family, friends, and those in our communities.

Incivility is the check-out clerk who vigorously snarled when I absentmindedly got in the “10 items or less” grocery line with 13 things even though I was the only customer in the store. It is the aggressive driver who cuts you off in traffic waving a third-figure salute as she speeds away. It is people who leave litter in our parks and pubic places. It is the customer service representative who simply hung up on me when she didn’t know the answer to my question. It is the use of crude and demeaning language that has become ubiquitous, even among our leaders. When we engage in uncivil behavior, we contribute to eroding the foundational principles of our democracy.

I’m not suggesting that practicing civility is the magic answer to solving our serious national problems, but committing to being respectful of our fellow human beings would go a long way toward helping. We can’t make progress if we don’t or won’t listen to one another.

While I can’t control what happens on a national level, or what other people do, I can work to control myself. This year I resolve to practice civility.

 

 

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Jumping Into What’s Next

Jumping off the high dive was the final test to earn an advanced swimming certificate and I was determined to get mine, a prerequisite of my goal to become a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor so that I could qualify for future summer jobs teaching swimming lessons. At 5 meters high (16.4 feet) just the thought of climbing the diving board’s ladder (let alone jumping off) was terrifying to me but I was determined not to “chicken out.” It was the 1960s and we were in middle school. I was the only girl in the class. The boys had teased me about the test for most of the summer, certain the instructor would have to climb up to retrieve me after I burst into tears.

The jump day came and we all lined the pool deck watching our classmates and waiting our turn. I was trying to look brave but in truth, but my stomach was churning. I climbed the ladder on wobbly legs and tried not to look down. The board was longer and much more springy than I anticipated and even my slightest movement made an exaggerated bouncing motion. I edged out to the end and stood for what seemed like an hour, as my classmates stared in silence. The blue sparkling water looked to be a mile below and I felt dizzy. Suddenly, from somewhere deep inside, I felt an invisible push and I jumped myself into our town’s small group of “certified advanced swimmers” and in to an assured summer job.

Covid-19 has once again brought me to the high dive. As the person responsible for a university president’s events, an official residence, high-profile meetings, conferences and special events, the virus has stopped my job in its tracks. With nothing but uncertainty looming on the horizon and the announcement that we won’t have any major events for the coming year, I’ve decided it is time to jump into my “what’s next.” I wasn’t thinking about leaving, but being parked at home with nothing to do feels like being locked in a cage. Gone is the addictive adrenaline rush of my previously hectic lifestyle and the accompanying satisfaction of working hard to help advance the university. So, after contemplating the situation, I jumped. I resigned my position, sold my house, and relocated to another state.

In the coming months, I will be devoting full attention to my own company, Harris Etiquette, Events, Protocol. I’m converting my popular business etiquette and protocol courses to virtual applications, will be adding new training and resources for people in business and academics, releasing my new book about managing an official residence, and writing my blog. I’ll also serve as the Vice President for Membership of Protocol and Diplomacy –International Protocol Officers Association (PDI-POA). When the world returns to large public gatherings, I will resume my on-site consulting services advising schools on how to stage board of trustees’ meetings, presidential inaugurations, commencements, and milestone events such as capital campaign kickoffs. I look forward to once again being invited to speak at professional conferences. In the meantime, I am available to answer questions and to serve as an argument-resolving resource when debates arise about arcane topics like what regalia is appropriate for an academic marshal. I invite you to visit my web site at correctoncampus.com, e-mail me at april.l.harris@icloud.com, or find me on Facebook or LinkedIn.

I’ve made the jump and I’ll work hard to become an advanced swimmer in the sparkling new waters in which I’ve landed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hybrid Commencement Needs Essentials

Hastily conceived hybrid commencement ceremonies were implemented by most schools last spring as the pandemic was building at the precise time spring exercises were about to happen. Many schools promised graduates that later in the summer, or perhaps this fall, they could return to campus to walk in a traditional ceremony. Some schools mailed diplomas with no ceremony, and others held virtual ceremonies and mailed diplomas later. Things like awarding honorary degrees and hosting notable speakers were put on hold. Now, with the Covid-19 all-clear still not happening, schools are left wondering how to fill the promises of postponed in-person ceremonies and how to go forward safely without creating a backlog of graduates who are waiting to be recognized.

As the author of Academic Ceremonies A Handbook of Traditions and Protocol (available at www.case.org) I have received numerous inquiries about to handle sticky situations like diplomas that were mailed with no degree conferral being spoken, whether or not to virtually award honorary degrees to people who should have received them last May, and, how to accommodate the graduates whose in-person ceremonies were postponed from May, to August, to maybe December, which in truth, looks doubtful.

The best answer is to be certain your ceremony, whether virtual, in-person, or a combination, includes what the “Academic Costume Code and Academic Ceremony Guide,” calls “the essential elements of the ceremony.” The guide, agreed to in 1895 by a committee appointed by the American Council on Education, is the authority on such matters. (You can see it on this website by clicking on the “academic ceremonies” tab.) According to the code, the essentials of commencement are “the conferring of degrees and the commencement address.”

Conferral 

Excited to get their diplomas, most students don’t realize the conferral—the actual speaking of the words that award their degrees—is the true highlight of the ceremony. This happens when the president, or whomever is designated by your school’s governing body, confers the degrees by reciting a formulary, usually something like, “Upon the recommendation of the faculty, and by the power invested in me by the Board of Trustees, I confer upon each of you the bachelor’s degree with all the rights and privileges there unto pertaining.” This step is repeated for each level of degree. Without it, the degree technically isn’t official.

Unfortunately, quickly formatted commencement alternatives sometimes left this critical step out. If you are planning a virtual ceremony, be certain the president or chancellor, says the degree conferral language for each group of recipients. Once done, diplomas can be mailed with total peace of mind.

While deans can properly distribute diplomas and congratulate graduates, it is not appropriate for them to host ceremonies that give the impression they are awarding degrees unless they have specifically been given authority from your school’s governing body to confer them. If this power has been granted, they need to say the conferral words.

Degrees Were Conferred, Now They Want to March

Some graduates will want to return to participate in a commencement ceremony, craving the sense of accomplishment and closure that comes with it. If degrees were properly conferred and diplomas mailed over the summer, and now graduates are returning to march in a ceremony, it is incorrect to call them “candidates.” They are graduates. In such a case, it would be more accurate to refer to the ceremony that includes them as a “commencement celebration,” or similar. It would be improper to read the conferral language again, but correct to read their names and have them march across the stage for congratulations and a photo with the president.

Commencement Address

While the commencement address is a much-maligned tradition, I think it is especially important to include words of inspiration from your school’s highest authority in this time of disconnectedness. Even if the address isn’t from a famous person, words of encouragement from the president should absolutely be included in your virtual or hybrid ceremony. Commencement is one of life’s major milestone celebrations and the feelings the school imparts to graduates on their way out the door will likely greatly impact their alumni and donor attitudes going forward.

Honorary Degree Recipients

Honorary degrees are higher education’s most prestigious recognition. They are reserved for eminent individuals with national or international reputations. One of the main reasons for awarding honorary degrees is so that the school can highlight the prestigious people with whom it is associated and host them on campus. Not doing so in person diminishes the stature of the honor, deprives students of the chance to meet them or hear them speak, and robs the university of the opportunity to host them.

For these reasons, it would be preferable to postpone the presentation of honorary degrees until the person or persons, can be present and take part in all of the pomp and ceremony of commencement. Simply mailing honorary degrees to last spring’s recipients as has been suggested by a group of one school’s deans, is not an adequate representation of the occasion.

For more information about honorary degrees, see my blog post, “Alexander Hamilton to Get Honorary Degree.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Smiling Voices, Smiling Eyes

A simple trip to the grocery story while wearing a face mask is a lesson in how much we rely on smiles and friendly nods to communicate with others. Our facial expressions send potent non-verbal messages that convey everything from friendly greetings to subtle traffic-directing acknowledgments that keep the flow of carts and people moving without colliding. Facial expressions communicate wordlessly when two people reach simultaneously for the same cooler door, they help us share a quick giggle at a silly situation, or as any Mom knows, send a powerful, but silent “stop that right now” to a misbehaving child.

I live in the south where established custom indicates a slight smile and little head bob extended to strangers is just plain good manners. It’s our way of acknowledging the presence of another human being and extending a touch of the polite courtesy that is so essential to a civil society. Having our faces covered because of Covid-19 removes the most important part of this tool—our smiles.

While eyes and eyebrows play an important role in communication, they only tell half the story. We need the mouth to get the full version. The mouth shows happiness, anger, fear, scorn, sadness or confusion. We learn early on that the non-verbal messages we get from seeing the entire face are a clue to the sincerity and trustworthiness of the words we hear.

There are many ramifications of having one’s face covered such as:

Sarcasm and pithy remarks can be misinterpreted because the listener can’t see the wry smile that says, “I’m joking;”

My son works with a man who is deaf but reads lips very well. With mouths covered, work has become a frustrating experience for both him and his colleagues;

Meeting new people is more challenging because we can’t see and remember the person’s face;

Masks muffle words making it difficult to hear and understand, especially when compounded by six-feet of social distance;

Masks confirm some things we prefer not to think about, for example, if you’ve ever wondered if your breath offends people the day after Pad Thai, there is no longer any doubt;

And sadly, masks have become the new American litter, dropped in parking lots and left in public spaces.

I Can “Hear” the Smile Behind Your Mask

Perhaps we need to practice an established sales training tip, putting a smiIe in our voices by smiling as we speak, even though no one can see our mouths.  Call center operators, fund-raisers, sales professionals and radio broadcasters are all schooled in smiling even though their audiences often can’t see their faces. We can definitely “hear” the smile in the speaker’s voice and we certainly notice when it’s missing. As a bonus in this face mask era where we can see eyes, smiles help give another clue to meaning because they have a way of “lighting up” a speaker’s eyes and making the person seem sincere, kind, and happy.

For the moment, wearing a face mask is essential and while lots of us are frustrated and cranky because we miss our normal lives, perhaps each of us could help lighten the mood by practicing what Leslie Lautenslager, president of Protocol and Diplomacy-International Protocol Officers Association (http://www.protocolinternational.org) said in a recent post. She signed off with having “smiling eyes and smiling voices.” I’m going to work on my technique.

 

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Flying is Squeaky Clean

I flew last weekend for the first time since Covid-19 upended life. It’s a strange new world, but one that I believe we’ve got to engage with if we are ever going to move forward. I flew Delta, and I must say, I’ve never felt so clean!

The first big change is the absence of the frenetic pace that typifies airports and the entire arrival process. No traffic congestion in front of the terminal, no security people shooing lingerers away from the loading/no waiting zones. Inside, the check-in counters were empty with one lone agent standing at Delta. All those frequent flier perks that we work so hard to accumulate so that we can skip the lines, were suddenly irrelevant. No one was there but me.

The biggest change? Each time you move from one step of the flying process to the next, someone is sanitizing you and your surroundings.

It starts with the Clear line. No more putting your fingers on the touch pad, instead, with mask on, you stare in to the just-wiped screen for an eyeballs-only scan. No full-face scan because they don’t want you to lower your mask. That finished, a chubby bottle of hand sanitizer is plopped in your hand. Next, step up to the TSA agent who does not touch your ticket or ID. It is do-it-yourself scanning. That done, use sanitizer again.

In Delta’s frequent flier lounge, the Sky Club, the always friendly hosts are now ensconced behind Plexi-glass walls making them seem less approachable. It’s like looking at them through a store window display. The normally jammed club is usually filled with passengers bustling to all points of the globe and the energy always fires me up and makes me feel like I’m part of something special. This visit, I was seated alone in an empty lobby, so quiet that I could hear a man’s food wrapper rattling from the other side of the room.

The Sky Club’s big draw is the always delicious hot and cold, self-serve buffet that makes the weary traveler whole without having to go to a restaurant. On this day, hot soups, fresh salads, side dishes and baked goods were replaced by a space-age looking, carefully organized selection of wrapped, labeled foods arranged on a grid by someone who must be an engineer, not a chef.  Everything was encased in protective plastic from vegetables to tiny individually wrapped pita breads. As soon as you finish eating, attendants whose hands are covered in black safety gloves swoop in to whisk away your debris and swab all surfaces you may have touched with disinfectant. Guests are spaced so far apart, it’s as if you are there alone. The local newspapers that I love to read are gone (you can learn a lot about a place by reading its newspaper) as are the slick travel magazines that never fail to fire my vacation fantasies.

As we stepped on board the jet, a masked, gloved flight attendant handed each passenger another sanitizing wipe and encouraged us to use them. We were all assigned a luxurious amount of room with no one in the dreaded middle seats. Once airborne, the chance to ponder whether my snack should be Biscoff cookies or Cheetos, and if it is too early for a glass of wine, is gone. Curated refreshments now arrive in little plastic bags and include a small bottled water, packaged snacks, and tiny individual one-squirt packets of hand sanitizer accompanied by a note about keeping clean and safe (as if we had forgotten).

Even the cabin safety announcements have changed. Passengers are now asked to refrain from placing used sanitizing wipes in the seat pockets in front of us. Instead, the attendants will come through the aisles to collect them. Ugh.

Now that I’ve had my first taste of protective flying in the Covid era, I’ll definitely do it again, but I long for the good old days of traffic jams, big crowds, rushing people, smiling flight attendants, overflowing overhead bins, and rubbing arms with some stranger who is crammed in the middle seat beside me.

 

 

 

 

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Repave Your Parking Lot Now

I’ve noticed many restaurants in our area have taken advantage of the time they’ve been Covid closed to redecorate, update, and re-do infrastructure such as parking lots, projects that have likely been on the “to do” list for a long time, but that would be disruptive to perform under normal circumstances. Their investment demonstrates confidence in our future, and also provides an allegory for collegiate events planners.

Most of us have finished work-arounds for spring awards ceremonies, board meetings, and even commencement. While the majority of us have managed to hang on to our jobs, now that commencement is in the rear view, the real belt-tightening will begin. The majority of campuses will remain closed for the summer, with fall reopening still in question. On our campus, no in-person events are scheduled for the foreseeable future. Some schools have announced no large events and no off-campus groups allowed for at least a year. It’s tough to justify keeping events planners on staff under those conditions. I know of colleagues who have already had hours and benefits reduced. It’s time for events planners to craft a strategy to protect employment and build for the future. Here are some suggestions:

Make Yourself Indispensable by Offering to Help. Take the initiative and offer your services to one of two areas that need help right now, development and admissions. Because events planners deal with people on a personal level, we often get to know alumni and friends in very different ways than other staff members, something bosses may not realize. We know everything from guests’ stories about their college experiences to their work lives, to their food preferences. We often have their administrative assistant’s names and know how to get on the person’s calendar, or know all about when they change jobs and why, or what ails them. This knowledge can be of great benefit to fund-raising staff, and let’s be honest, during the regular crazy-busy flood of events, we don’t often take the time to share. Make yourself indispensable by putting this information to work for others. Volunteer to spend your summer building lists of people who might be good advisory council, board, or committee members or who might otherwise be prime candidates for increased involvement. Offer to brief prospect researchers, help vet lists, and update databases.

Admissions offices are working on overdrive right now as they scramble to confirm fall enrollments and prevent admitted students from changing their minds. Predictions are that up to 20 percent of students may not show up for fall. Your people and tech skills may be useful in helping admissions staff reach out to admitted students to encourage them to enroll.

If you choose to try a volunteer strategy, talk to your boss now before cutbacks are announced. Once you have been indicated for reduced hours, a furlough, or worse yet, layoff, it’s too late because your salary has already been factored into a draw-down formula. Assisting other offices may not only keep your paycheck coming, it shows you are a team player. It is also a good way to sample other career options in advancement that may open doors for your future.

Invest in Yourself. If a reduction in hours, or a layoff does come your way, use the opportunity to reinvent yourself for the future. This is a great time for some introspection about where you want to go in your career, and how to get there. Like the restaurant that is adding extra seating even though they are closed, use the gift of time that we have been given. It is rare and invaluable. Significant career progress in higher education means that a master’s degree is mandatory. If you don’t have one, enroll in an online program now. If you don’t want to pursue a degree, there are many other online resources to enhance your skill set in everything from protocol to commencement, to food and beverage, to meeting management. Edx.org http://Edx.org offers high-quality, university-based courses for free on a wide variety of topics. If you want a certificate for your efforts, there is a modest fee. The Protocol School of Washington http://psow.edu has put some of their training online. The North American Association of Commencement Officers http://naaco.com offers a certificate program, as do meeting management associations such as MPI http://mpi.org.

Test Your Wings. How many of us have an idea for a side hustle or self-employment that has been sitting on the “someday when I have time,” burner? Now is the chance to go for it. I know a man whose hobby is cooking bar-b-que for tailgate crowds of 100 people. His dream has been to someday have a food truck. He’s using his furlough to try it out. Another friend has long wanted to open an Etsy store to feature her custom-sewn creations. A layoff and the need for stylish masks has prompted her to get started. Her shop opened last week to great success. The opportunity to showcase her skills and build a customer base will lead to an easy transition to other products once the need for masks has passed.

When I lost a university job years ago during an economic downturn, I started publishing a subscription-based newsletter for events planners, something that I had dreamed of but didn’t have the time to do. With nothing on my hands but time, I gave it a shot, funding myself with credit cards after banks refused to give me a loan. Five years later, I sold my successful company to a much larger publisher. The exposure of that venture brought me attention on a national level that has propelled my career ever since.

So, don’t wait to be a victim or falsely assume that you won’t be affected by job cuts or hours reductions. Now is the time to go on offense and take charge of your situation. It will pay off in the future.

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It’s Time to Ditch Buffets

Overflowing self-serve buffets are likely going to be one of the victims of Covid-19, and that’s fine with me. Who wants to touch serving utensils and eat food that has potentially been contaminated by someone else (never mind this has always been the case)? Conversely, no one wants buffets where everything from fresh fruit to hot foods are encased in protective plastic. The virus-induced events reset is an opportunity to be smarter about not only cleanliness, but food waste. A good place to start is eschewing the buffet.

As an event planner, I see an obscene amount of perfectly good buffet food dumped into the trash each year. Cakes with one slice removed, full chafing pans of vegetables or chicken breasts prepared as “back up” quantities, and mounds of freshly-baked yeast rolls routinely get thrown away. According to the USDA, Americans waste 40% of our country’s annual food supply. Food waste, and often the accompanying single-use plastic it is served with (150 million tons annually) are the number one component of landfills.

I understand and appreciate the artistry of the visual feast of beautifully displayed foods that have become standard for meetings, conferences, and special events. We use food as both bait to get people to attend, and décor to make events beautiful and prestigious. Buffets include a wide variety of offerings, piled high to convey success and abundance. They are lovely to behold. The same applies to all-you-can-eat restaurant buffets and produce aisles in supermarkets. Americans have been conditioned to the look of bountiful excess. When it’s missing, right-sized food offerings can seem less prestigious, stingy, and “second class.” It is time to change this perception.

Our recent obsession to accommodate ever-increasing dietary preferences exacerbates the problem. We now provide a multitude of choices on the chance that we might offend someone by not being able to meet their specific desires. Even break services that once constituted coffee, tea, sweeteners, and cream have morphed into mini-buffets. While one form of creamer was once standard, we now provide oat milk, soy milk, low-fat, no-fat, real cream, almond milk and little tubs of flavored chemical concoctions called, “French Vanilla,” “Irish Cream,” or “Mocha.” Accompaniments have blossomed from simple pastries to yogurt and fruit parfaits, fresh fruit, breakfast breads, muffins, and bagels with their requisite toppings. We throw most of it out.

As we begin the fall planning cycle, there are many unknowns (will we be allowed to hold large events, will social distancing still be required, even if the danger has subsided, will people be ready to reengage?) but as planners, our duty is to be ready with options. I intend to begin by ditching the buffet, no small task because this has ramifications for everything from budget to staffing to venue.

Our fall semester has traditionally begun with the President’s Picnic, an outdoor event for the entire student body that includes food, bands, and fireworks. We serve from 14, double-sided buffet lines set up under a giant tent. Students eat seated closely together Octoberfest style at tables on the campus greenway. Replacing this will be a challenge. Perhaps this year we will keep the entertainment, but dispense with the picnic. We could feed students in the dining halls. Perhaps we won’t do it at all.

Here are some alternatives to buffets that are double wins because they reduce both food waste and the chance for contamination:

Cafeteria service. People select from a number of choices (though fewer than on a buffet). Food is served by an employee who controls portion size.

Food stations. Options are available from a group of scattered food stations. Serving is done by an employee.

Boxed lunches. Offer a few choices of main item, add “sides” that are universal. Boxes are packed in advance by employees. Be sure to use environmentally friendly packaging to avoid increasing plastic waste. Go an extra step toward reducing waste by polling guests in advance so you have a close approximation of how many of each choice is needed.

Plated meals. Food is served to seated guests by an employee.

Adjourning for “lunch on your own.” Provide attendees with vouchers to eat at existing campus food outlets.

Adjusting event agendas or start times to avoid lunch or dinner hours.

Determining at the outset if it is really necessary to provide a meal.

For more information about reducing food waste go to http://epa.gov  and http://rts.com.