BU holds press conference with student media

Editor’s note: Readers are encouraged to submit questions they’d like answered in future press conferences to BUnow.

Bloomsburg University held its first press conference with student media on Friday, April 3 to address various concerns of the student population amid the coronavirus—virtually, of course.

Available to answer questions were Dr. Bashar Hanna, president; Dr. Diana Rogers-Adkinson, senior vice president and provost; Peter Kelly, chief of staff; and Tom McGuire, director of media relations and content strategy. Representatives from The Voice and BUnow were invited to attend.

BUnow reporters rounded up the most important topics below:

What have you learned from this pandemic that you will take forward in order to ensure the health and safety of BU students? What will you do differently now? 

Hanna: “No matter how much you emergency plan, I don’t think any one of us even six weeks ago would have predicted that we would be offering our entire curriculum virtually. What I do believe we learned is the adaptability of our faculty, staff and, most importantly, our students. If you would have asked me the day we announced we were going online that we would be this prepared, and things would be going as well they’re being reported…I’m really profoundly proud of what our faculty and students have been able to do. The most important thing is we haven’t lost a single member of the BU family, and there are a lot of other towns and families who have not been this fortunate. I can’t tell you how important it is to keep you safe, to make sure that when we get on the other side of this curve and we can go back to how normal things should be, whatever normal looks like on the other side of this. Again I think that the important lesson here is that as true to our Husky lineage, we adapted, and we’re doing the best we can with the tools that we have been able to put together as quickly as we could.”

Have you been planning for the possibility of students not returning to campus in the fall if we need to extend online learning?

Hanna: “I think all of the modelling that we were seeing both nationally and locally suggests that we should be able to return to the fall semester as an on-site institution like we were before this catastrophe. Just like we did for the summer classes, we made the announcement that we are going online to give our students as much planning time as possible and our faculty as much time to plan. We would do the same thing for the fall.”

Rogers-Adkinson: “One thing we are doing this summer… is really beefing up what we will offer for faculty for additional training this summer and so we have our TALE center that does faculty development and they are planning on offering a lot of opportunities for faculty to increase their skill set over the summer just in case. So we’re hoping that it’s training they won’t need but that they’ll have for any case that could happen.”

Which classes or majors will not be allowed the option to have classes be pass/fail?

Rogers-Adkinson: “Most classes will be eligible, but courses that require a specific grade, and certain nursing classes would not be eligible.”

Courses will be posted on the registrar’s site soon.

Does the three-year window for reversing a pass/fail decision apply to graduating students, too?

Rogers-Adkinson: “We will be freezing everybody’s final grades to be able to provide that to the student, so that they’d be able to verify to either a future employer or a selection committee for grad school that they did successfully complete that course with a C or better…We put the three-year window in more for students who might change their major later on and they suddenly need to know what the grade was in that course, or they need it posted because they’re now in a major that they need that grade…but either way, we’ll always be able to verify what the final grade was if a student needs it later.”

How will dean’s list requirements be handled given the new pass/fail grading procedures?

How many courses a student takes as pass/fail will not prohibit the attainment of dean’s list.

Rogers-Adkinson: “We’re doing our best to hold harmless. If a student had straight B’s for example, and currently had a 4.0, so they choose to take all passes to preserve their 4.0, then they will get to be on dean’s list. We’re not going to deny dean’s list because they chose the pass. We’re going to assume since they always were an A student before, and with the transition to online they may have struggled a little bit, that by choosing to take the peace they did the smart thing for themselves. Why should we say they’re not a dean’s student anymore?”

Have you considered an extra semester or year of eligibility for student-athletes who may have missed their season?

Hanna: “Yes, the NCAA allowed the conferences to make that decision and our conference, the PSAC, has made the decision that student-athletes would get an additional year of eligibility for those in spring sports who lost their entire season. There’s still some conversation regarding winter sports because they were almost complete by the time we had this catastrophe hit us. So yes, that decision has been made for spring sports, and yes students will have that opportunity.”

Rogers-Adkinson: “Some of those students are seniors that have expressed an interest in wanting to keep their eligibility for next year, so we are also helping them explore what graduate programs might be appropriate for them so that they can come back next year and still use that last year of eligibility as a graduate student.

There are 26 students still living on-campus. Gov. Tom Wolf mentioned earlier in the week that Bloomsburg University might allow Geisinger to use our dorms to house healthcare workers during the pandemic. What kind of safety precautions can we take for the students who are living on campus because they have nowhere else to go?

Hanna: “Because we are state-owned, both FEMA and PEMA have the right to assess our facilities in the time of emergencies for emergency use…If Geisinger is going to use any of our facilities, it would be exclusively apartments on Upper Campus that are completely empty and do not currently house any of our students. These would be staff members from the Geisinger system who need a place to rest because they’ve been working around the clock…or, they have been exposed and need to self-quarantine…All of the buildings that have been evaluated by the Army Corps of Engineers…are currently completely vacant.”

McGuire: “Upper Campus now is closed to everyone, so no one is even allowed up there.”

There are a lot of Bloomsburg students in off-campus housing, would it be better for those students to go home or to stay in Bloomsburg while everything is shut down?

Hanna: “That’s on a case by case basis. The genesis of the email was to prevent large groups of gatherings…We were really sending the message to our students: please be safe…At this point, as long as you’re safe, be wherever you need to be and stay inside, stay safe, and don’t congregate in large groups…We had some rumors that Block Party was being planned, and that would be an absolute disaster for our community especially given the transmission of this virus.”

Could it be a requirement for each professor to utilize BOLT during online instruction?

Rogers-Adkinson: “We did provide some faculty some flexibility that had skills using tools other than BOLT. There were some that used media:scape and other tools that can be just as effective as…using Zoom within BOLT. We did not mandate one particular methodology.

What is happening with the Big Event? Is BU planning on helping the community after the pandemic has passed?

Hanna: “When the virus blows over and we are back to normal operating procedures I would love to be able to coordinate with CGA to do something in the fall and the spring next year so…the really good community service work that we’ve been accustomed to seeing our students do in the community doesn’t get interrupted…Hopefully we are back to normal in the fall and we can plan something around homecoming…so we can really make sure that the community continues to benefit from our good, neighborly acts.”

With the nursing program, since our students start in their sophomore year, they have enough hours that they are able to continue with case studies instead of their normal clinicals, but what about people in the teacher education program. If they are in their student teaching semester, how will they still be able to meet their requirements for certification?

Roger-Adkinson: “There’s a couple of things happening with our education majors. Some are helping to prepare lessons remotely because schools have gone remote. So the student-teacher is still engaging in the same way under the tutelage of their cooperating teacher. There’s also a legislative opportunity so that if they are not able to complete all 12 weeks that are required by state law, the Pennsylvania Department of Education will be able to waive that for this particular group of students and still allow them to move into the classroom.

Does the university have any measures in place to stop Block Party? What actions might be taken if students try to have a Block Party or similar gathering this year?

Hanna: “The university doesn’t sanction Block Party. It isn’t our event to stop it or endorse it. We’ve tried a lot of things to keep it under control for the safety of our students and their neighbors. This year, I think, God forbid anyone has the silly courage to try to schedule it, it’s going to be in violation of the governor’s orders. The university doesn’t need to do anything other than allow law enforcement to basically enforce the governor’s orders to stay home. If it does happen, students could be both [held responsible by law enforcement] for violating the governor’s statewide order, and they could be held accountable for violating the student code of conduct as it pertains to being responsible citizens.”

How can accepted students confirm their admission status now that campus is closed?

Accepted undergraduate students should inquire to buadmiss@bloomu.edu and graduate students should reach out to Candy Ryan, director of graduate admissions, at cryan@bloomu.edu for questions about admission status.

Hanna: “We are keeping in touch with all the accepted students to the degree we can, and the graduate students are no different.”

Note: Aaron Sudia Boivin, Joshua Evans, Todd Romero, Catherine Rose, and Eva Wozniak contributed to this report.