Return to Campus: Virtual town halls address fall plans for faculty, staff

Two-part virtual town hall series covers topics from technology updates to campus health protocols

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Bowling Green State University is designing flexible course delivery and upgrading classroom technology, building layers of protection in office spaces and classrooms, adjusting HVAC and building airflows, working with the Wood County Health Department to implement real-time contact tracing on campus, and enhancing diversity and belonging efforts to support the health and well-being of the campus community.

In a two-part virtual town hall series for faculty and staff, BGSU leadership shared additional details about the University’s plans and response to the COVID-19 global pandemic , including academics, research and creative activities, class and instructional delivery modes, health and safety protocols, facilities, and diversity and belonging efforts in a COVID-19 world and similar areas.

“There is a great deal of work being done by our colleagues in a variety of ways addressing initiatives and challenges at BGSU,” BGSU President Rodney K. Rogers said. “We are applying best practices from not only here in Ohio, but across the country and the world. It is so important that we continue to be adaptive, flexible, creative and innovative.” 

Class and instructional delivery modes

As the University plans to repopulate its campuses, Dr. Joe Whitehead, provost and senior vice president for academic and student affairs, and Dr. Glenn Davis, vice provost for academic affairs, addressed what classes will look like this fall. 

With an emphasis on flexibility, Whitehead said curriculum will be delivered in a combination of face-to-face, online and hybrid formats, with hybrid course delivery allowing the maximum amount of flexibility to serve students unable to attend class in-person and serve students enrolled in a single class in a space not large enough to serve all students at once. 

“Design flexibility will allow faculty and staff to provide solutions in how we deliver curriculum,” Whitehead said. “We want to encourage engagement with students while providing starting-point guidelines and support for how courses will be delivered.”

John Ellinger, chief information officer, shared ongoing technology upgrades in classrooms that will allow for better quality audio and video, with live-streaming and recorded options. Additional student employees have also been hired for technical assistance to support faculty during class instruction. 

Research and creative activities

Dr. Michael Ogawa, vice president for research and economic engagement, led the discussion on the guiding principles to restart research activities.

The restart of on-campus research and creative activities was being phased-in over a two-week period, which started July 1 with a priority on laboratories and studios under the direction of a probationary faculty member, or grant-funded faculty members who required access to these facilities in order pursue their grant-funded work.

Starting July 15, remaining laboratories, studios and other facilities began reopening and off-campus field research will be permitted on a case-by-case basis. On-campus undergraduate research and off-campus face-to-face human subjects research will not resume until the fall.

Campus health protocols and facilities 

 As BGSU prepares office and classroom spaces for the repopulation of campuses, there will be layers of protection including face coverings, face shields and physical distancing requirements.

Students, employees and visitors will be required to wear a face covering in all indoor public and shared environments. Face coverings will also be required in outdoor spaces if physical distancing is not possible.

“We are doing our very best to plan and prepare a safe environment,” said Sheri Stoll, vice president for finance and administration and chief financial officer. “This is going to require the active participation of each of us and a commitment that we work together.”

Plexiglass shields will be installed between faculty instruction spaces and the classroom, information or checkout stands, and at reception desks. In addition, queuing lines will reflect physical distancing guidelines.

Campus Operations staff will provide regular cleaning and sanitizing of common areas and each office will be able to request personal protective equipment including face coverings, plastic shields, gloves, hand sanitizer, wipes and additional paper towels. 

The University has already begun using electrostatic sprayers in offices and will expand their use to classrooms and other common spaces. Additionally, HVAC and building air systems are being adjusted to increase the total air flow supply to increase the outside air exchange and reduce or eliminate any inside recirculation. 

Diversity and belonging

BGSU continues its commitment to building a campus climate that fosters an inclusive environment that promotes and nurtures diversity, empowers and supports people, and builds a community where all are welcomed, valued and affirmed.

Jennifer McCary, chief diversity and belonging officer, said this mission is critically important, particularly in a COVID-19 world.

“Diversity and belonging are very much at the forefront and contribute to the conversation around COVID-19 because people of color are experiencing this at a disproportionate rate to others,” said McCary. “It is all interconnected and we all have a part to play in what happens on our campuses.”

McCary shared the Diversity and Belonging Comprehensive Strategic Plan, which was released to the community June 19, and encouraged faculty and staff to review the plan ahead of the repopulation of campuses.

“We recognize this fall is going to be a unique one,” McCary said. “When we return, everyone is going to be doing everything they can to keep us physically as safe as possible. I also want to focus on our mental health and safety.”

Several teams are working on fall engagement opportunities to build on the summer programming and workshop series.

“We can’t talk about things in isolation,” McCary said. “We have to be able to address all of the topics, all of the time and understand our part in what it means to be living in a global pandemic, while still addressing the epidemic, or pandemic, of racism.”

A collaborative effort

BGSU will work directly with the Wood County Health Department on real-time contact tracing and quarantines, said incoming Chief Health Officer Ben Batey.

Batey, who is currently serving as the Wood County health director and will begin his role at BGSU on July 27, said the University is building a system through the Falcon Health Center to assist and share the responsibility for contact tracing on the Bowling Green campus with the Wood County Health Department.

He emphasized the importance of wearing face coverings and following health guidelines.

“It is possible to navigate this,” Batey said. “We will need to be flexible at all times. We are learning new things about this virus every day and we have to adapt.”

As BGSU further develops health protocols, Dr. Sue Houston, vice president for partnerships and chief of staff, said the University will continue to follow CDC guidelines and work closely with the Ohio Department of Health, the Governor’s Office and local health departments.

BGSU participates in weekly calls with other Ohio universities to share best practices and will continue to seek feedback from BGSU task forces focused on operations, safety and health protocols and academic and student life. 

“At the heart of this, we need to support the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and community while providing an education and supporting our outreach and research agendas that are driving the public good,” Rogers said. “That is why Bowling Green State University exists and we must continue to focus on the power of what a university like Bowling Green State University can do for our communities and the world.”