“Magical Thinking” and Inward Engagement at a Small Liberal Arts University in a Time of Crisis

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This case study essay draws on experiences and survey documentation surrounding a new, client-driven course, ENG337–Professional Editing, that was piloted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The author, an Assistant Professor at a small liberal arts college, pulls from this experience and the attending documentation to interrogate “magical thinking,” a concept formulated by Joan Didion (2007) and later repurposed by James Dubinsky (2010) to explore various dimensions of program development. Through the narrative of course development and administration and a retroactive summary of survey findings, the author demonstrates how “magical thinking” can be re-formulated to respond to our responsibilities to students and stakeholders in times of crisis. The essay concludes by calling on readers to not allow “magical thinking” to be a just-in-time reaction, but rather a regular expression of our values in the field.


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