By: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read April 2020 — Rollins College is a 135-year-old private liberal arts institution. President Grant Cornwell discusses how the school has adapted in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and how faculty and staff are adjusting to the crisis, including moving to a fully online delivery of courses and one on one meetings.
How has the transition to all online classes and education been for your university, both for students and faculty?
In early March, Rollins started making plans to shift to virtual, synchronous teaching. Our faculty and staff immediately switched gears, canceling many spring break plans to modify their lesson plans and maximize utilization of WebEx, the internet-based meeting platform the College adopted campus-wide. By the start of remote classes on March 23 they were fully prepared to support our students.
I have been so impressed by our creative, innovative and resilient faculty and staff who are committed to providing our students with the best and most meaningful education, even under these exceptional circumstances. Across the board, departments have stepped up to serve our students from afar. Our librarians serve as consultants, our tutors are demonstrating their online coaching skills at our Writing and Tutoring Center, one-on-one office hours are being conducted via WebEx, our health center has transitioned to telemedicine and counseling – and the list goes on and on. The Rollins community has confronted this challenge by conceiving and executing innovative approaches that continue our educational mission.
The feedback from students has been largely positive. They are doing their part to complete the semester remotely and are eager to learn more about COVID-19 from all aspects so that they can contribute to solutions.
How is the university working to assist the student body and faculty in mitigating the challenges and impact from the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our Endeavor Center for Faculty Development has been working closely with our IT department to ensure that everyone has the resources they need to both teach and learn in this new environment.
Our communication channels are open and transparent as the pandemic evolves. We created and continually update an FAQ on the College’s COVID-19 response webpage to help address questions from our various audiences and stakeholders. Regular updates are communicated through newsletters to students, faculty and staff, parents, alumni and others.
At first, the information was largely operational, demonstrating the proactive steps we were taking to ensure the health and safety of our community. As we have stabilized and successfully developed new systems for operating remotely, we are also sharing the positive stories about the contributions the Rollins community is making to help others navigate the negative effects of COVID-19.
Do you feel higher education is receiving enough state and federal support in this time of need? What can the state and federal governments be doing better in this regard?
We are grateful for the funds dedicated to higher education from the CARES Act. Every bit is helpful as colleges and universities look to deal with budget challenges. State-funded institutions already receive government funding and that’s certainly acceptable as that is their operating model. What’s important, however, is that private colleges and universities are like private business. We run our institutions based on private revenue and, ideally, that should be accounted for if there is a future funding bill from the federal government.
As higher education adjusts to the current situation, what opportunities and innovation do you see carrying over post-COVID-19?
This experience has emphasized that we can indeed deliver our mission to our students in a new way. In fact, remote classes should be made available to those who are ill or unable to attend a class for other reasons. Post-COVID-19, our culture will need to change to make remote accommodations for those who are vulnerable or ill.
Because the Rollins mission is so focused on community engagement, we are finding other ways to help our communities not only during these difficult days of isolation but in the future, as our country recovers. The tenets of a Rollins education — community engagement, responsible leadership and global citizenship — are needed now more than ever.
What would your message be to the university’s student population and faculty that is sheltering in place and waiting for a return to normalcy?
Stay calm, stay home and carry on. We all have to do our part to keep moving forward to the best of our ability. Finish the semester strong and find ways to be a light to others. Keep in your sights the Rollins motto, FIAT LUX, “Let there be light.”
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