April 13: President McConnell university update
Happy Monday, Everyone,
I hope that you all took some time for self-care this past weekend. I know that while I found the April snow shower unexpected, I also found something very peaceful in the view outside of my window.
I also felt a profound sense of pride and gratitude at the start of this week when I had the opportunity to watch two videos made for all of you. Our leaders here at CSU are compassionate, generous, and committed to our university community, and that has never been more obvious to me than during this extraordinarily challenging time. To see what I mean, please watch this video compilation of thanks from members of my leadership team, and this video that Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes made for our students.
One thing I was struck by in Blanche’s wonderful message was the way she framed the COVID-19 crisis for students as something that has so profoundly upended their lives that they should give themselves time and permission to grieve for what they have lost. I urge all of us to think about that framing and to acknowledge how wise it is. Already, some of us have lost loved ones to this virus, which is deeply tragic. We have also lost our social support networks, our professional identities, our sense of structure and order in our lives, and our access to many of the activities through which we define ourselves, from social activism and volunteering to exercise and self-care, to spiritual practices and cultural activities.
What the Ram Family has not lost is our sense of empathy. That has been made absolutely clear to me from the very beginning of this crisis, in the incredibly proactive, tireless work of the Pandemic Planning Team, my leadership team, our Deans, and countless others across campus. It has also been made clear in the questions we have received most often from some of you. I answer those questions below. I am also very pleased to share a very detailed set of FAQs that my team has developed that provides a comprehensive overview of all that we have done and are doing for our campus community. I urge you to review this FAQ document, to share it with colleagues, and to keep it for your reference.
What are we doing for our student workers?
As soon as we began conversations about moving classes online after Spring Break, we identified student workers as a university population that would be uniquely affected. We engaged student-facing units across the university to survey our student workers in all categories (Work-study, hourly, non-hourly, etc.) and determine exactly how many of them depended on their university income such that they would not voluntarily leave their job this spring. We then committed to paying all these students through May 15—even if we couldn’t offer them in-person or remote work duties. We’ve learned over the past few weeks that some student workers were initially let go, for various reasons, and we are working with HR to retroactively reinstate those students on payroll.
What are we doing for our students who don’t have connectivity or computers, or who need accommodations?
I am excited to tell you just how proactive, creative, and personal our efforts have been on behalf of our students who need accommodations of various kinds to successfully engage in online learning. Our advisors have reached out to students directly, while the Institute for Learning and Teaching has created extensive resources for online learning, including a list of free or low-cost Wi-Fi and internet providers. The Morgan Library staff has directly shipped 138 laptop computers to students who needed them—and they have more available to ship upon request. And of course, our Student Disability Center developed thoughtful, comprehensive guidelines for students, families, and faculty and staff to refer to regarding all kinds of accommodations that students may need during this stressful transition.
What else are we doing for our students?
We know that wherever our students are now—at home with family, in our residence halls, or sheltering in place on their own—they are facing a variety of challenges. In addition to the support we are providing to those students who need accommodations or who work on campus (see above), we are continuing to provide an array of resources to our students, including food from Rams Against Hunger, learning resources through TILT and our academic departments, general coping resources on the new Keep Engaging site, and extensive mental health resources through the CSU Health Network. These include crisis counseling available 24/7, support groups, prescription services, and online content.
How is the university protecting our essential-in-person workers?
We are doing all that we can for those members of our workforce whose work duties require them to be on one of our campuses and potentially exposing themselves to risk, whether they are police officers, healthcare workers, or custodial staff. Effective last week, we instituted differential pay for these employees, retroactive to March 23 and built around an equity model. We are simultaneously focused on minimizing the risks they may encounter in performing their jobs, which means we’ve provided them with Personal Protective Equipment and with COVID-19-effective cleaning supplies and trained them in how to use these items. We are also offering ongoing and upon-request virtual and even in-person open sessions for these employees with representatives of our public health staff, so we can be sure to answer pressing questions, clarify any misconceptions, and address emerging needs and concerns.
How is the university addressing the fiscal and mental health concerns of all employees?
We know that all of our employees, whether they are working remotely while home-schooling children, working in person, or teaching online for the first time, are looking for answers and grappling with many concerns. We are committed to supporting all our employees during this difficult time. We are working closely with HR to make sure that all supervisors have up-to-date public health and employment information to share with their employees, including the new leave categories we have created specifically for COVID-19-related leave needs. We are distributing food right here on campus. We offer resources online to help employees keep teaching and keep working. And offices across the university have mobilized to offer mental health resources, from expanded information from the Employee Assistance Program, to guided meditation, adult fitness classes, and crisis counseling.
Again, for more information about any of the areas I’ve addressed, check out the FAQs here.
The one thing that I wish I could give to all of you at this time is certainty. I want that as much as you do. I want to be able to tell you when we will be back to work in our offices, when we will be welcoming students back to campus and into classrooms, when we will know all of the fiscal and other implications of COVID-19 on our university community. I want to be able to tell you when this pandemic will be truly behind us. But as many of you know, from watching, reading, or listening to news reports from local, state and federal officials, we just do not have that certainty at this time. We are in completely new territory here, but I urge you to draw strength from the fact that we are in it together.