The loss of a teacher or faculty member presents a host of challenges for the academic institution. The loss will have an impact upon the faculty and administration, the students, the alumni and the supporters of the school. Colleagues will seek to express condolences in meaningful ways to honor and support the family of the deceased and the school family.

How Should Condolences Be Expressed?

Common etiquette for expressing condolences in any work environment will also apply in the academic world. Though the methods of conveying the sympathy may reflect the depth and duration of the relationship, messages of condolence to the family would be appreciated from anyone who worked with the deceased at the institution.

If it is possible to attend, personal appearances at the visitation and funeral will convey honor and respect for the deceased. Hand-written notes or a gift such as flowers or a fruit basket are concrete ways of showing care and concern. The school may choose to cancel classes and encourage all faculty and students to attend the services.

Class time may be offered to allow students to share memories and to express their own personal grief. Tributes may be printed in school newspapers or posted on faculty and school webpages. If appropriate, volunteers could assist in handing the colleague’s workload if the death occurred during a semester that the colleague was teaching or researching.

Long-lasting expressions of condolence

Here are some other appropriate ways to express condolences about the colleague that can have longer lasting effects.

  • Make a donation to the school in honor of the colleague. The school was an important part of the faculty member’s life. A donation to the school would benefit the organization that meant a great deal to the deceased. It would also keep the faculty member’s name and memory in front of others.
  • Make a donation to the deceased’s favorite charity, religious organization or civic group. If the family has preferences for this type of donation, it is often listen in the obituary.
  • Work with other faculty members and the school administration to sponsor a memorial evening to honor the deceased. Invite former colleagues and students to offer tributes. Put together a slide presentation of pictures of the colleague involved at the school.
  • Write a personal tribute to the spouse or family of the colleague. Include in the writing personal reflections on experiences shared, memories of the impact the colleague made upon students and other ideas that emphasize the positive characteristics of this individual.
  • Perform research or write a paper and dedicate it to the memory of the deceased. The work could center on a subject or field of study that was important to the colleague.
  • Help organize or compile a book to honor the deceased. While a Festschrift contains original contributions by close colleagues and former students and is published during the lifetime of a teacher, a Gedenkschift is a comparable book published posthumously.