ASU President Michael Crow knows University decisions impacting thousands in health and academics this semester were “disruptive, but we don’t think hugely disruptive,” he said in an interview with The State Press Wednesday.
The University’s imperfect approach to managing the coronavirus was just enough to “defend against the virus” despite holes in what Crow described as a “Swiss cheese model" nationwide.
The number of infections the University community saw this semester was “not good,” Crow said, but it anticipated such numbers and planned on having "between up to 1-2% of the staff and the faculty simultaneously infected." Since Aug. 1, 3,248 students and employees within the ASU community have been infected with the coronavirus.
The ASU community’s commitment to social distancing, wearing face coverings and completing daily health checks were key for operating this semester, Crow said, along with University-provided COVID-19 tests and other building and sanitation enhancements.
“If you match all of that together, it turns out that the institution can operate,” he said. “And we can operate successfully — not in any way like it operated in the past — but successfully.”
What steps is the University taking to ensure fewer students are infected this spring?
This semester, students were required to test negative before moving into residence halls, but there were no specifications on when the test had to be taken. Crow said the window to test negative should be smaller.
Before students return to campus, they’ll again need to provide proof of a negative test. The University will help to provide tests beginning with students who lived on campus during break, students who live locally then out-of-state students.
Crow said the University will continue to implement the same testing protocols, including random testing, but may have to intensify it if coronavirus cases increase dramatically.
“We might require more testing for the entire student body and the entire staff, hopefully not,” Crow said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it the way we’ve done, but we’ll be ready for that.”
Joanne Vogel, vice president of student services, said a reorientation of expectations in the Community of Care is also a piece of the University's plan for welcoming students back in the spring.
When can students expect a decision on spring break?
Crow said the decision to cancel or keep spring break will be made when all data he could possibly have is available to him, but a decision will be made “before the end of the semester.”
Finals week isn’t quite over yet, but what benefits did you expect, and what has been the result, of shortening the semester?
In mid-September, the University’s provost announced instruction would be virtual following Thanksgiving break and finals would take place during the last week of classes. Crow said the University speculated there would be “a resurgence of the virus” after Thanksgiving break.
“We thought that the best way to complete the semester given that fact,” was a dispersed end of the year, Crow said. “Our students are not coming onto campus, they’re either headed home or are at home. They are going to have a higher probability of completing the semester,” he said.
Students have said they struggled to get through the semester in multiple ways. Students said the shortening of the semester and the cancellation of fall break caused unnecessary stress and dread about final assignments.
READ MORE: Students are just trying to get by
Crow said the Innovation Quarter, a month of free webinar sessions covering a number topics, already has student interest and will prepare everyone in the ASU community for another semester. The Innovation Quarter is set to begin on Dec. 7, which would have been the first day of the original finals week.
A post on Reddit asked other ASU community members if students should protest the event, holding signs in Zoom rooms expressing how the event hurt the education process since it overlapped with what students thought would have been finals week.
What major changes to course delivery may students see next semester?
The University is planning to provide more in-person opportunities for students next semester, if possible, by encouraging faculty to return to campus and having more in-person events.
Crow said if more students do choose to come in-person, they “would build whatever tools” and establish new techniques required to ensure there is little to no transmission of the virus in classroom spaces.
Next semester will still look a lot like the fall, with classes offered in-person, through ASU Sync and iCourses.
What feedback have you gotten from faculty about this semester?
A transition from in-person classes to almost exclusively virtual instruction was not easy for many, Crow said.
In the spring, “we’re looking for people to basically not give up so easily,” he said.
Anne Jones, an associate professor and soon-to-be vice provost of undergraduate education, said adjusting to ASU Sync was challenging at first, but “this is not a permanent condition, this is an adaptive moment.”
“The fun part of teaching freshman chemistry is being in the room with people discovering chemistry for the first time and feeding off their energy,” Jones said. “Talking to my computer when no one answered felt really, really weird.”
She said while the experience has been strange, she could see how the virtual classroom experience for freshmen could have “felt super weird to them, as well,” Jones said.
Wyatt Myskow is the project manager at The State Press, where he oversees enterprise stories for the publication. He also works at The Arizona Republic, where he covers the cities of Peoria and Surprise.
Piper Hansen is a digital managing editor at The State Press. She is a reporting intern at the Arizona Capitol Times. Outside the newsroom, you can find her backpacking in Kentucky or working at summer camp.