Provost Vaught gives insight into fall 2020 and COVID-19

Reading Time: 8 minutes In an interview with the provost of Utah Valley University, Dr. Wayne Vaught gives insight into how the administration is tackling coronavirus concerns for the fall 2020 semeste

Reading Time: 8 minutes

UVU’s 3D logo in the Student Life courtyard. Photo credit Austin Skousen

The full question-and-answer dialogue can be found by scrolling partway down.

Dr. Wayne Vaught, provost of Utah Valley University, gave insight into how the fall 2020 semester might operate amid the coronavirus pandemic on June 12.

Vaught, answering questions from The Review as well as some submitted by students, said each department is coming up with procedures for student health and safety.

“We have students who are trying to take care of people who are either themselves vulnerable or are taking care of family members who are vulnerable,” Vaught explained. “We’re trying to accommodate them and accommodate everyone.”

Mandatory attendance and assigned seating may be avoided since the university has fulfilled the state’s social distancing guidelines in traditional classrooms. Interactive classrooms, such as those involved with dance or music, will likely require customized safety procedures that are being developed.

Vaught mentioned that hand sanitizer stations will be available and that the “optional” face-mask wearing mentioned in the FAQ “could stiffen for the classroom experience.”

Most of the external doors of the main campus are now unlocked and open to the student body, Vaught said. However, information will be announced in a week regarding how the university’s video conference option will be available for fall registration.

The provost said enrollment has continued in an upward trajectory and that summer 2020’s enrollment is actually higher than last year.

Vaught described how the debate between holding in-person courses versus a fully online format has been a polarizing issue among students. He said that they “just did a survey of students and about 40% are saying they would like face-to-face but a significant number really want online” and that they’re “trying to modify our course delivery modes to meet student demand as best we can.”

Fortunately, Vaught said, despite the technology challenges, “tech support did a really a good job.” He said that Zoom bombing did not occur here at UVU to his knowledge, and that the university administration utilized Microsoft Teams. In hindsight, he said, communication is something everyone can always do better. The cabinet met on Teams daily for several months, he said.

When asked about the availability of Wee Care Center for fall semester (the campus daycare), Vaught referred us to Alexis Palmer of Student Affairs, who then referred us to Jolene Merica of the Wee Care Center. Merica said “We are going to open” but that they don’t have all the details yet. She said the Center is working on processes for COVID-19 compliance to be in agreement with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Merica said she would have more details for The Review on June 22. We will follow up with an article about Wee Care Center near that time.

The FAQ explains that UVU has issued free masks to employees but that students may obtain a free mask from the State of Utah. When asked whether this was a good decision by the administration, Vaught said that it is “under review” and went on to say that they “are looking at that question right now. It wasn’t a decision that we’re not going to do it. It was just ‘we need to get masks now for the employees because they’re the ones coming back, there’s these free ones for students, and let’s revisit the issue of what to do with masks.’”

Regarding the university’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Scott Trotter, senior director of communications, said “UVU’s leaders, faculty and staff did an amazing job adapting in the COVID-19 pandemic. There were huge hurdles that had to be overcome in a short amount of time, plus everything was in flux and kept changing. People came together and made it happen. It made me proud to be part of the Wolverine team.”

Full Q&A Dialogue with the Provost on June 12, 2020

Q: “One person wanted to know if attendance is going to be counted or if there’s going to be any changes to attendance with the pandemic.”

A: “Attendance is typically determined by the individual faculty member. The state is requiring us, if we can’t maintain the appropriate social distancing, and we’re in Code Yellow or Orange, that we would have to take attendance and have assigned seats. But that’s a state-level guideline. But we’ve gone through to create social distancing in all the classrooms so if attendance is taken, it’s going to be at the discretion of the faculty member right now, but there could be rooms that can’t maintain, like in an acting class, where people are actually close to each other, and then we might have to do attendance. It’s kind of hard to answer your question—it’s variable—in some cases there could be attendance required and in other cases there may not be.”

Q: “One person in the survey, they wanted to know ‘How will performance-based classes be affected,’ like dance, and that brings up labs, dance, study abroad, NOORDA, those sorts of things. Do you have information about that?”

A: “We’re collecting [the information]. Each unit is developing its guidelines and policies. We have Robin Ebmeyer— she’s our health and safety person on campus—they are getting their plans approved by her and those plans will help ensure the health and safety of students in those classes. And they are ones we can’t guarantee six feet between people. So I imagine masks will need to be required, protocols for instrumentation, so if a student is playing the piano and practicing and they leave and another student comes in, they will have procedures for how they clean those instruments and all of that is unit by unit in how they’re developing their guidelines and that’ll be available.”

Q: “One student asked a lot about Wee Care. She said that they only accept in-person applications [and] they’re not answering their phones. Are parents going to be able to use Wee Care in the fall?”

A: “Wee Care is currently shut down.” [The provost referred us to Alexis Palmer of Student Affairs, who referred us to Jolene Merica, the director the Center. A future article will detail Wee Care’s plans.]

Q: “The FAQ says that the doors would be unlocked June 8th. Are all the students able to come on campus now? Or is it just employees?”

A: “The buildings are mostly open now. All the buildings are unlocked on the main connecting buildings; we have some perimeter facilities that we’re keeping locked just because there’s no one there and we don’t want people wandering in there but the main buildings are unlocked. And we’re staggered opening, so this week was the provost’s office and a number of different places but there were three different stages of people coming back. So there will be one in two weeks from this past Monday [“past Monday” was June 8] and then July 8th or 6th is the next one.”

Q: “I noticed in the emails I received from the school that there was going to be a video conference option that was different from the in-person and different from the fully online. Can you tell me more about how the video conference option will work in terms of how do you register for it, how do students know what a video conference class looks like on the registration page?”

A: “Additional information will be coming out next week to the students, so we’re compiling that, so tell them to stay tuned. The current registration page will be augmented and so some of the courses will convert to livestream or some may convert to online, some will remain face to face. We’re actually trying to meet student demand. We just did a survey of students and about 40% are saying they would like face-to-face but a significant number really want online. So we’re trying to modify our course delivery modes to meet student demand as best we can.”

Q: “That brings me to another question. I don’t know if you can elaborate on this but how has fall enrollment been affected? Have you guys seen a trend downward because of the virus?”

A: It’s hard to say that it’s downward. We are below where we were a little bit last year but it’s been in an upward trajectory. We think students have delayed for a lot of reasons in registering for classes and that’s pretty common actually around the country. Schools are noting that. Students are now starting to register and I think once we get the registration system converted next week, then people will start thinking ‘Okay this is what I can get into.’ We’ve gotten both inquiries, students wanting to know ‘I really need online classes, are you going to create more online classes;” “I really want a face-to-face class, are you going to bring more face-to-face classes;” this issue really has polarized people. People either don’t want to come to campus because of concerns and we’re addressing those with our safety guidelines and there are people who really want to be on campus. We’re trying to address all of those.”

Q: “It’s a hard position to be in.”

A: “It really is, we have students who are trying to take care of people who are either themselves vulnerable or are taking care of family members who are vulnerable. We’re trying to accommodate them and accommodate everyone.”

Q: “I imagine you were an integral part of the talks about whether to be in-person in fall or not and The New York Times reported that California State University, the nation’s largest, is [completely] online for fall, and The University of Utahcame out and they announced [in-person options], with Utah State and Utah Valley, I imagine maybe some of the decision makers were polarized as well on whether to be in-person or not.”

A: “The decision-makers were looking at—there have been task forces—the USHE [Utah State Higher Education] has been working to develop guidelines for how campuses would reopen. They’ve been working on guidelines and working with institutions to develop the guidelines for reopening. So we announced our reopening plan after we were pretty comfortable with what those guidelines were going to look like. A lot of those were these safety protocols to put in place. But we had pretty much all along agreed, there was a significant demand from students to have face-to-face classes and we’re trying to reopen the campus as best we can to meet those student needs….We want to provide as best we can the campus experience under the recognition we’re in an unusual time and we don’t want to do anything that creates additional risks for our students—there’s always going to be some risk, so we try to minimize those.”

Q: “This was an unprecedented situation for any leadership team. I can’t think of a time when the school [campus] has been completely shut down in the middle of the semester. Looking back, is there anything that you or the administration would do differently to handle that transition?”

A: “That is a really good question because it is so unprecedented. In retrospect, how do you prepare for the unforeseen, the disasters of life? You know, this administration did a really good job. The cabinet convened daily meetings after COVID-19 broke and it became very clear—we started, it was on our radar once the University of Washington started closing its campus or transferring to online classes. We started planning then about a month or so before that we started planning on getting our Office for Teaching & Learning that does a lot of the online education to make sure they had the resources and were prepared to help faculty transition. We were doing that a month before we transitioned to an online environment (we remained open as a[n online] campus). I can’t think of anything that just sticks out to me as ‘Oh I wish we had done this differently.’ What I’m really impressed by was how we met every single day. Problems would come up and we would address them on a daily basis and really try to be able to respond. Communication is always a challenge—that’s probably the thing that, you say ‘What can we do better,’ that’s always something everyone can always do better on. We have tried as best we can to communicate and create websites to create information for students….It was daily meetings, sometimes two to three hours long….We started meeting about the week before Spring Break. Once everything started to come to a head with that, we started meeting on a daily basis to address whatever issues were coming up….It’s only recently that we let up and started meeting every other day. Everybody took it very seriously, we worked very hard.”

Q: “Do you know of any Zoom bombing that occurred with some people using Zoom rather than the more preferred methods?”

A: “We used Microsoft Teams; we didn’t use Zoom. I did use Zoom because USHE uses Zoom so for their meetings, so I did. I don’t know of anybody that Zoom bombed any of our meetings so that worked well. Actually it was an interesting experience coming together—the technology—it was a moment of digital transformation for us because we were then connected constantly by this tool.”

Q: “I bet tech support was working round-the-clock.”

A: “Tech support did a really good job. I don’t think there was ever [a problem].”

Q: “Do you know when the restaurants are going to reopen?”

A: “Not off the top of my head….Chick-fil-A is open, it stayed open the entire time.”

Q: “I noticed on the FAQ, it says that face masks will only be provided for employees and not for students and that students can go to the State of Utah and get the free mask. Do you think that was a good decision to not offer the students the free masks but offer the employees?”

A: “That is under review. We are looking at that question right now. It wasn’t a decision that we’re not going to do it. It was just ‘we need to get masks now for the employees because they’re the ones coming back, there’s these free ones for students and let’s revisit the issue of what to do with masks.’”