Opinion: CSULB President Conoley’s concerns and hopes for the future of the university

People Post is a space for opinion pieces, letters to the editor and guest submissions from members of the Long Beach community. The following is an op-ed submitted by Jane Close Conoley, president of California State University, Long Beach, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Long Beach Post.

While we’re still in the midst of the exponential growth of the coronavirus, CSULB is planning for our 2020-2021 academic year.

For example, we are weighing possibilities that some students may need a special summer session to complete requirements for professional certifications or graduate school entrance. Also, we are analyzing whether we could expand offerings in the fall and spring if we are unable to offer courses this coming summer.

When I think about our path to recovery, I see it as staying aligned with our north star: always planning for student success. We’ve transformed the rest of our semester offerings to remote delivery. There will be no face-to-face instruction until … Well, I don’t know when. I imagine that this summer we’ll be asking faculty about their experiences in delivering instruction remotely to see if the experience opened up new learning experiences for them and their students or identified any weaknesses in our remote delivery options. Some faculty may want to create hybrid courses in the future that would combine face to face and digital delivery and, perhaps, some will never want to ZOOM again!

We already offer 600 courses and a few degree programs fully online. The crisis might change that number dramatically. We will also be debriefing all of our leadership actions to see what we might learn about our communication networks, speed of decision making, and whether we made the best possible decisions to protect the community. I am counting on 20/20 hindsight because in the moment we are having to make decisions with incomplete data. We are in the “fog of war” now, but must keep moving forward.

It’s hard to imagine the virus having a silver lining, but I must say that slogging through hundreds of decisions and their implications revealed a wonderful resilience across the Long Beach campus. Everyone with whom I’ve been interacting has been calm and determined to protect health, safety and student success. Adversity does call forth the character of people and our leadership, staff, faculty, students, alumni and friends have shown remarkable problem solving skills, and compassion, and resilience.

I worry about our students’ financial welfare very much. About 80% of our students work to support themselves and, perhaps, their families. The loss of work during these social-distancing weeks is a real danger to students’ ability to stay in school. Even when the virus is under control, its economic effects may linger among low-income students for a long time. We will, of course, double down on our Basic Needs program to help food- and housing-insecure students keep making academic progress. We house about 2,500 students. We are offering partial refunds on housing, meal plans and parking to students who can return home until the fall. Student housing is usually too dense to allow for appropriate physical distancing so we know our students’ best choice, if possible, is to return to their homes. Of course, that will not be possible for all students for a variety of reasons. Their safety is paramount and we’ll re-arrange their living situations to allow for the best possible social distancing.

In addition to over 2,000 faculty members we have 3,000 staff members who are responsible for all aspects of campus operations. Protecting their health and livelihoods is a top priority for me. We’re figuring out right now how much of the campus’ staff can work from remote locations and how we can keep essential staff, those who must come to campus, safe and productive. Certain operations (e.g., Rec Center, library, gymnasiums) will close; others will have limited hours; and many of our academic buildings will be locked to increase the security of staff who must come to work.

While from the outside, we look very quiet, you can be sure that lots of educational and research activities are still humming–some on campus but much more in cyberspace. One of our strategic priorities is to increase our resilience.

At the time I’m writing this, we think we have our first confirmed case of COVID-19 within our Beach community. We are certainly getting a dramatic lesson in resilience as we look at potentially catastrophic financial losses, serious slowdowns on our sustainability initiatives, and threats to personal optimism – a key foundation of resilience. I remain hopeful, however, that with a unified effort we’ll bounce back with a new appreciation of how we contribute to the public good.

We are #OneBeach

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