President Davis Remains "Realistically Optimistic" As Campus Cases Improve
President Davis discusses her optimism moving forward, but says that certain on-campus restrictions are in place for a reason.
Student feedback is at an all time high, and the administration is happy to receive more.
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On Feb. 5, members of The Paladin’s editorial board met with President Davis via Zoom to discuss the 2021 spring semester and how the administration hopes to see Furman thrive amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The following week, Associate VP for Student Life Dr. Jason Cassidy, who also coordinates the COVID Response Steering Committee addressed several questions circulating among the student body and helped clarify some concerns about COVID-19 on campus. Here is what we learned:
Improvements in communication. Throughout the fall semester, the administration frequently received complaints from students and parents about campus life and student happiness. According to Davis, that has since changed. Currently, “I’m definitely not getting as many” negative emails from parents,” said Davis suggesting that students and parents are getting the information they need. She also said there’s less confusion about communications because students “just know what to look for.” Davis mentioned the university can now do a better job in its emails of drawing people’s attentions to what really matters.
Campus Operational Phases. By now, every Furman student knows the infamous “Orange Phase” that set campus under specific restrictions for the first few weeks of the semester. Campus operational phases were implemented “so students could really understand the directions we’re moving” with COVID-19 protocols, said Davis. The administration knows students need social activities to help promote positive mental health and overall happiness, so the operational phases allow students to congregate under certain guidelines. Davis added that “Students came to campus this spring knowing they would have to be creative” when it came to socializing, so the operational phases are not meant to serve as an obstacle, but rather as a “global sense of where we are” in terms of COVID-19 on campus.
As of Feb. 12, campus officially entered the “Yellow Phase” due to lower caseloads on campus and student adherence to the rules thus far. Moving forward, Davis is looking forward to remaining “realistically optimistic” and hopes to tackle other issues such as finding ways for students to attend outdoor sports and other events. Despite the excitement of moving into the yellow phase, students are still asked to avoid bars, crowded restaurants, and any locations where social distancing and masking are not being practiced. Additionally, there is no way to predict far in advance what phase campus will operate under. Campus case numbers, quarantine/isolation space on campus, and Greenville’s disease prevalence all play a role in the decision, and according to Davis, “The colors move into each other like a rainbow,” so even with slight improvements or setbacks on campus, a phase is not guaranteed to change.
Vaccine Updates. As COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the country, the administration cannot make any predictions about vaccine protocols next fall. According to Davis, “It is still too early to have these fall conversations,” as vaccine updates change daily, and COVID-19 trends can be difficult to predict. That being said, Davis noted it is also still too early to address study away predicaments for the next school year, as any vaccine protocols would also affect abroad learning and because “we don’t know what other countries are going to do in terms of allowing us to travel.” Furman’s study away programs have to lock into contracts early, and “because there’s so much uncertainty, we can’t do that.”
The administration’s goal is academic progress. Given that student and faculty feedback have helped play an important role in crafting spring COVID-19 guidelines, the administration will continue to listen to feedback as it makes its decisions. “Everybody wants what students want, which is getting back as close to normal as possible,” said Davis after mentioning the administration will resume meeting with student groups in the near future. Knowing that no one is perfectly happy with the given situation, “people find different ways to deal with it,” said Davis, who will take into consideration the feedback she receives from various student groups when determining future policies. But at the end of the day, the administration’s goal is academic progress for all. As campus continues adapting to the virtual environment, students are still offered chances of success and progress during COVID-19.
Davis encouraged all students to still talk to their faculty advisors and mentors since there are still various opportunities for success even during the pandemic. For example, during the 2020 summer Furman saw its highest number of students doing summer research. Although research, especially virtual, can be difficult with lab sciences, students are still encouraged to use any and every resource available to them in their studies. She also pointed to a recent virtual career fair in which some students got offers on the spot. “I know our internship office and career engagement are working harder than ever to try to make those connections” for students.
COVID-19 Concerns. After faculty were included in the first round of mandatory testing at the beginning of the spring semester, concerns were raised this testing did not continue as campus shifted to random weekly testing. According to Dean Cassidy, faculty and staff are not routinely tested “because they are not in a residential setting with students.” Still, faculty and staff are expected to complete the mandatory daily health screening available on LiveSafe according to Cassidy. To date, there have been no cases where an employee/student exposure has been linked to viral transmission concluded Cassidy.
Cassidy also addressed questions about what truly determines the operational phase status of campus. Because no “single input is independently responsible for that decision,” several factors are taken into consideration when determining what color campus falls under. Included in these factors are executive orders from the State of SC, cases on campus, whether COVID-19 rates of infection are increasing or decreasing, and several more. That being said, campus operational phases do not follow a checklist or rubric, but rather respond to the situation as it continues to evolve.
The Furman Advantage. As internships moved into the virtual setting and study abroad trips were cancelled, some of the main components of The Furman Advantage seemed questionable. But making decisions that impact The Furman Advantage opportunities for students is not an easy task for the administration. According to Cassidy, “we pay particular attention to the community disease prevalence which is still very high.” As much as the administration wants students to have those in-person experiences, the surrounding communities will need to show significant and consistent improvements before that conversation can ever occur. Still, the COVID Response Steering Committee, and the Public Health and Safety Advisory Group review this decision every week and continue to monitor any updates impacting Furman’s campus and the Greenville community.
Moving forward. As difficult decisions are continuously made, the administration is working hard to make sure student opinions become more accessible this semester. As Davis noted, student happiness is a priority, and difficult decisions are not taken lightly. A student advisory group was formed this semester to serve as a liaison between the administration and the student body. The students on this group are available to students, who may ask them questions and/or send them suggestions to share with the administration. As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout our community, students are encouraged to responsibly enjoy their life on campus, and to continue providing feedback to the administration who hopes to make that campus life as enjoyable as possible.