CSU leaders address plans for Fall semester at two town halls

Students walking on campus

CSU leadership outlined steps being taken and answered questions about how campus will return to primarily in-person classes in Fall 2021. Photo from 2019 by CSU Photography

Colorado State University leaders hosted two town halls this month for faculty, staff, students and their families to learn more about the return to in-person learning and working in the fall.

At a May 7 session attended by more than 1,000 people on Zoom, President Joyce McConnell and members of her leadership team addressed a variety of topics, including how hybrid courses are being restored to face-to-face delivery and how student and employee vaccination records will be secured.

Provost and Executive Vice President Mary Pederson said CSU will return to primarily in-person teaching in the fall. The process has started with many large-capacity classes being restored to a completely in-person format, and departments have been submitting their course changes to the Office of the Registrar. She added that even if they are teaching face-to-face, faculty are encouraged to continue using Echo360 if they are in a classroom equipped with that lecture-capture technology because students say it is useful to refer to those recordings if they missed anything.

In the past year, Information Technology staff have equipped about 90% of general-purpose classrooms with lecture-capture capabilities; those teaching in spaces without it are not required to add an online component to their classes.

Pandemic Preparedness Team Co-Chair Marc Barker, assistant vice president for safety and risk services, outlined the three phases of public health guidelines released May 4 as the University transitions back to in-person operations over the next several months. Those guidelines, which move into phase two on May 17, outline plans for easing restrictions on-campus events, travel and campus facilities, among other areas.

Watch the video

Recordings of both town halls about Fall 2021 are now available online. The May 7 general session is available on the CSU COVID Information and Resources site; the May 13 employee session is on the HR site.

May 7 general town hall with closed captions in English

May 7 general town hall with closed captions in Spanish

May 13 employee town hall with closed captions in English

May 13 employee town hall with closed captions in Spanish

Lori Lynn, PPT co-chair and the executive director of the CSU Health Network, provided statistics about the efficacy of the available COVID-19 vaccines.

Now that the CSU System has decided to require vaccinations for those returning to campus in the fall, Lynn said the Health Network will be handling student vaccine records in the existing HIPPA-compliant system, while Human Resources is developing a similar system to handle employee vaccination documentation.

They will be treated as confidential medical records, and no individual data will be disclosed, explained Lynn and Robyn Fergus, CSU’s chief human resources officer. Individuals were also urged not to ask others about their vaccination status.

Return to working on campus

Another town hall, held on May 13 specifically for CSU faculty and staff, addressed additional questions about returning to campus for those who have been working remotely since March 2020. President McConnell acknowledged employees who have been on campus throughout the pandemic, working in Housing and Dining Services, Facilities Management, the CSU Health and Medical Center and other areas critical to providing a safe environment for students for the past year.

“We are so grateful to you and everything you have done to keep our University running and our students learning,” she said.

Fergus said leadership realizes there will be a big adjustment period as other employees return to campus, and that it will be a gradual process; McConnell called it an “adaptive transition.”

Supervisors will start by identifying roles that need to be filled in person to best meet the needs of students – for example, customer service functions – and other University operations, such as IT or finance, which require less of a physical presence.

Some of the options Fergus outlined included remaining fully remote for a period of time; developing a hybrid model of working some days on campus and some days remotely; or completely in person but on a flexible schedule.

These and other details of the transition will be covered in the University telework policy, now in final review, but Fergus urged staff and supervisors to bring flexibility to their discussions.

Diana Prieto, vice president for equity, equal opportunity and Title IX, added that her office and the Ombuds are available to help facilitate any discussions around the subject that become difficult.

A training session for supervisors will be held sometime over the summer.

As if to underscore the challenges in developing policies in line with current public health guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s announcement easing mask requirements for vaccinated people was made in the middle of the employee town hall.

Year of challenges

In the May 7 session, Blanche Hughes, vice president for student affairs, thanked the students for their resilience in dealing with a year full of challenges.

“Your fall experience will be in person, so let’s get excited about that,” she said. “You did an amazing job. We all know how difficult that was; we know that you missed connecting with other students. And those who weren’t even on campus, who were at home, we know that was not what you signed up for in a college experience. But you did it, you figured out a way to make it work, and we really do appreciate that.”

Hughes added that events like Ram Welcome and facilities like the Student Recreation Center are expected to return to normal, and restrictions on dining centers and residence halls will be lifted.

“We know that you’re ready to come back and be in community with each other, and with our faculty and staff community,” she said. “We are so looking forward to having you all be able to return and be engaged on campus in the fall.”

Hughes added that there will still be plenty of mental health resources available for those who need help dealing with the effects of the previous 18 months.

“Seeking help is a sign of strength,” she said, “and we are here to support you.”