It took a matter of days for lives to completely flip upside down, as the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, made a worldwide impact.
Although notable actions within the United States were taken in March, the preparation and planning process for contingency plans arose long before then.
Pace in particular had been monitoring the COVID-19 outbreak since the initial reports from China. The university’s Provost Vanya Quiñones, has an extensive background in science and immediately began to think about online learning as a potential need.
Last year, Pace made the change to eliminate snow days to decrease the amount of lost time for educational learning. Rather than in-person classes, all classes would be held online to protect the safety of students, faculty and staff, while also maintaining academic learning, in a weather event.
This snow day policy implementation that was initiated by the provost at the start of the spring 2019 semester was one step that helped make the transition to all online classes smoother.
On March 10, students, staff and faculty had noticed that Pace would move to remote learning beginning March 11 until (at the time) March 28. President Marvin Krislov said that the administration knew the transition to online was vastly approaching, but the college was trying to remain on campus until the start of spring break.
“But as events unfolded, the guidelines from the CDC and the concerns from the state , we feel that we just needed to take the action we did, which was to shift online on March 11,” explained Krislov.
Many colleges and universities, such as local schools like Westchester Community College, Iona and Marist, as well as larger national schools like the University of South Carolina, extended their spring break an additional week to plan and get accustomed to remote learning.
However, Pace implemented their remote learning policy beginning on March 11, decreasing the amount of time lost. During spring break, students received notice that the university would be transitioning to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. Moreover, the college asked all students who were able, to move out of their dorms on campus. At a faculty council meeting on Friday April 3, there was a report of approximately 90 students remaining on the Pleasantville campus and 240 students remaining on the New York City campus. Along with these students, only essential personnel such as maintenance and limited dining remain.
Professors and academic personnel are utilizing tools such as Blackboard Collaborate and Zoom to continue communication, education and socialization with each other.
The most difficult aspect of the switch for the college was determining how to handle programs that have an extensive amount of hands-on and participation learning.
“We were very concerned with the programs that really have an experiential component,” revealed Krislov.
Many of Pace’s classes have clinical placements, labs and performing arts aspects. However, Krislov says the university is making the best out of the situation and is pleased with the turnout thus far.
“We’ve found ways to provide experiences for students,” Krislov said. “It’s working pretty well considering and I’m really proud of the faculty, the staff and the students who’ve stepped up and dealt with the transition and the challenges it poses.”
Through the balancing act of fielding various needs, with the health and safety a priority for the university, Krislov is satisfied with the handling of the unprecedented situation.
“I am sure there are things in hindsight, you always could do differently, . . . but I’m really proud of the work that people put in. I think people are working very well as a team,” said Krislov.
Now the university is keeping up-to-date with the decisions from the federal, state and local governments to determine the actions the college needs to continue to take.
“The biggest issue is just trying to figure out what the guidelines are going to be and when we can have more in-person meetings and in-person experiences. We are tracking that and trying to get guidelines from the state and federal government. The guidance has been changing very rapidly,” Krislov said.
To help keep-up-to-date with the government officials reports and CDC recommendations, the college has put together a task force composed of individuals that are a part of different aspects within the college. This team keeps track of the updates regarding the coronavirus and holds daily virtual conversations to keep everyone in sync.
Furthermore, as the hospitals and public locations begin to overfill with patients, and medical personnel, there are conversations within the country regarding the usage of college campuses in supporting the medical needs of the state.
Pace has donated personal protection equipment to local hospitals in the Westchester and NYC areas. In addition, many of Pace’s faculty and staff are volunteering or are involved in healthcare.
Krislov says there has been conversations regarding how Pace’s campus could be utilized, but the priority is the safety and health of those students who are currently living in the dorms.
The future impact that the virus will have on university operations remains uncertain.
In February, President Krislov reported that the university had been financially stable for two years. For many businesses, corporations and individuals the virus and stay-at-place orders are causing financial disruption. However, Krislov is not concerned about the financial status of Pace.
“We think we are in a decent financial situation, we’ve got enough cash to support our needs. We’re expecting that there will be some financial support from the government,” stated Krislov.
Despite that, COVID-19 has required the university to spend money on essentials related to cleaning and maintenance for health purposes. In addition to increasing the financial spending on technology to enhance the remote learning experiences. Moreover, the university lost additional income from various different summer programs, activities and rental fees for events that were scheduled to take place this coming summer.
Earlier this year, the president also made an announcement regarding a master plan for the Pace NYC campus. The project is still on pace to occur, however the construction may be delayed. Currently, New York State has announced non-essential construction is on hold until at least April 21. This summer, the university has planned for construction on Floors 4, 5 and 6 at One Pace Plaza. Krislov says the other aspects of the NYC master plan, “are definitely”on the table, but there is uncertainty into how quickly they will happen.
The university is also looking ahead at ways to help build various programs and initiatives that will be in demand once the government quarantine ends. This will help improve the finances of Pace and caters to the needs within the country. Krislov predicts that there may be an influx of people who decide they want to go back to school as a result of the economy. Pace’s mission is to determine how the university can help meet the demands of the people and help create opportunities.
In saying that, Krislov acknowledged there is a big concern in higher education on how COVID-19 will impact colleges, in specific to enrollment for higher education.
“I think that the kind of education we offer is going to become very appealing during this time. We also think there may be people who are thinking of education, who may not have been,” Krislov expressed.“We are tracking and planning on various contingencies as things develop. So far, we are optimistic.”
Currently, the university is holding all admissions events online, such as PaceBound. The tour guides are giving virtual tours of the university and speakers like Krislov himself, are giving their speeches through the platform of Zoom. In addition, orientation for the class of 2024 is still being discussed, but both campuses are working on contingency plans that include virtual and hybrid options, or a combination of both.
As professors, students and administration get accustomed to working online, the process has been informative into the abilities and opportunities there are for future remote learning.
“I think it tells us we have the ability to teach remotely in many areas. And what it may mean is that there are some opportunities for us to have classes or even degree programs that have online components. I think everyone has done a really good job of adapting. I think that we will have to look case-by-case and program-by-program to see what we’re doing. I suspect its going to be most relevant in the graduate education field,” explained Krislov.
As of the current state, there is no information regarding when campus operations can return. For now, the remainder of the spring semester and early summer semester one remains online. A decision will appear shortly regarding summer semester one, followed by the remaining two summer semesters.
Commencement for Pace’s graduating class of 2020 has been postponed. Students will have an opportunity to participate in a virtual ceremony within their schools in May (Date will be announced shortly). Moreover, the university is planning for two in-person graduation opportunities, so that students, parents and faculty are able to participate in the experience. One of these ceremonies is expected to take place in December/January, while the other one will take place in March/April.
Even though the remainder of the semester may not be in-person, President Krislov acknowledges the hard work being done by faculty and staff to keep a sense of community.
“We are really trying to work to create that sense of belonging,” Krislov stated.
Moreover, Krislov acknowledges that the current situation is creating anxiety, depression and mental health issues for everyone around the country. Pace is continuing to offer resources virtually to assist the needs and demands of the faculty, staff and students.
Pace’s Fall 2020 semester is scheduled to begin on September 9, and as of now the plan is for those classes to be in-person. However, there is uncertainty about whether that will be able to happen.
“Well, we would like to know sooner rather than later so we can plan. And it is challenging to plan. We are looking at the short-term, the medium-term and the long-term plans. And we have different options depending on the way things go,” Krislov stated.
The university has a group of people working on the scenario planning for different situations that could arise.
“I think we are doing well with anticipating and planning for the future.”
Despite the uncertainty, Krislov is remaining hopeful that in-person campus interactions will be back for the fall.
“I am very hopeful that we will be back for the fall,” Krislov said. “And I can’t tell you exactly when that decision will be made because it’s a government decision. But we are in touch with the state officials and we’re a part of a lot of groups, national groups, that are in-touch with national officials. I think everyone in higher education is eager to get back to campus.”