In spring 2022, I began a small, unsuccessful, campaign against the use of the word “robust,” and I really can’t help continuing this hopeless effort. Using the word activates my suspicion of myself when I accidentally peacock my way into using words and phrases that signal my possession of a graduate education. I also feel like it’s a classic, vague word one might use to say something is sufficient when it actually isn’t. Anyway, last semester I just kept hearing the word over and over in various professional contexts, and it just wore thin after a while, and I kept feeling like it could be eliminated from most sentences I see it in.
The assignment for this entry is to cover the issues around the notion of a return to campus, addressed by a Senate task force in this linked document, where you will find the word “robust” right there in the title. The Senate closed last year with an impassioned debate about the report and its contents, and our vote regarding support for its content was divided, about 60/40.
I would like to thank those who collaborated to write the report and led argument on the Senate floor, express thanks to its dissenters, and convey to all faculty that my efforts as Senate President (for this year) and Instructor of Visual Effects/Animation will be to continually push for a restoration of as much as “whatever we used to be” as a college as possible. We held the Parker Lunch and Institute Day Main Program largely in person; I am back on campus for my two classes; and I am attempting to pull more and more Senators back to campus for Senate meetings. I say all of this with an understanding that the college ought to maximize its service to students and, as part of that goal, fill as many distance ed sections as our students need.
Since I don’t have much of your time here, I will cut straight to my current, but ever-changing, views about where we may go as a virtual or concrete embodiment of a school. If we have another huge surge of coronavirus infections and deaths, I am certain course offerings at college will lean heavily, and possibly permanently, toward distance ed. But, if hospitalizations and deaths remain at current levels and continue to drop, then by spring 2023 the latest, I believe faculty should be considering the following.
Enrollment is down 14% this year alone, and this comes on the heels of a 25% decline in FTES over 9 years. If faculty want to continue to have the positive effect on students we all dreamt of when we decided to be professors, not to mention keep our jobs, we need to turn this frown upside down and rebuild enrollment. All members of our community are hopefully thinking of ourselves as recruiters with a renewed sense of vigor. The Administration is also hopefully contemplating radical new strategies to build enrollment, such as Taco Tuesdays and beyond. These are long-term projects we can only but sustain and support if we would like to survive as an institution.
Otherwise, I would like to touch on some controversial near-term strategic questions linked to how well enrollment might bounce back on a short-term basis. The first is: do we need to continue the mask mandate in campus buildings? My sense is we should think about scrapping it, because at the Parker Lunch literally everyone ate together maskless in the Student Center and then masked up for the Main Program in Kreider Hall, as if the highly transmissible BA 2, 5, and 7 versions of the Covid-19 pathogen might’ve chosen to let us slide at the lunch but then infect us at the Main Program. There is no prohibition against wearing masks, and, given our conduct on Institute Day and how things have played out since, I see an argument for individual choice regarding masks. I am not sure to what degree this will impact enrollment, but it might help – and then our conduct as professors might seem less absurd.
Secondly, should the college continue to enforce a vaccine mandate for students? I am thinking perhaps we should not, if letting the mandate drop will build enrollments back. It would be valuable to see data showing the number and ethnicity of unvaccinated students who try to enroll and can't. On the other hand, though all GCC employees have been vaccinated, there is evidence that the unvaccinated put the vaccinated at greater risk, so taking a principled stand against the unvaccinated wouldn't be unreasonable. I admit to being on the fence on this – but this term there were 19 section cancellations in Visual and Performing Arts, and it could only help my division to increase our student supply. We are all still straining to recover from the pandemic, hoping it's in the rear-view mirror and wondering if it will worsen again, so I say "thanks" for reading my thoughts, none of which I am terribly attached to. Whether you agree or disagree, I look forward to collaboratively, respectfully problem-solving with all of you.
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