Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson hosted the second East Carolina University town hall meeting today where he fielded questions from the virtual audience about “Return of Pirate Nation” which included concerns about the return to campus in the fall.
The meeting was directed to faculty and staff, but was made open for the public to tune-in and ask questions as well.
Mitchelson opened with an acknowledgement that this fall will be different than anything he has seen in his 42 years in higher education. He said in large part the differences will be the constraints that we must live under to cope with the presence of COVID-19.
“Make no mistake, that virus (COVID-19) will be present with us. Make no mistake, we will have diagnosed cases of COVID-19 here at ECU. That is a sure thing,” Mitchelson said. “How we mitigate and how we cope is what is more under our control.”
Mitchelson said ECU will require face masks for students, faculty and staff in public spaces and face-to-face meetings on campus. The university has already begun to purchase disposable face masks that can be provided to staff and students if they don’t have their own, according to Mitchelson.
With questions on expectations of professors teaching for extended periods of time with masks, Michelson said professors can take distance breaks outside of the classroom in their longer classes where masks can be removed. Staff are also encouraged to hold online office hours as opposed to face-to-face, if possible.
“This is not a request, it is a requirement. This a requirement that doesn’t derive from enforcement or the fear of enforcement,” Mitchelson said. “It derives from Pirate culture, it derives from my desire to protect you, it derives from your (staff) desire to protect your colleagues and protect your students. Those masks will play a key role.”
Micthelson said that ECU will prepare a video series to help teach staff how to properly clean classrooms, offices and other facilities for staff. After a suggestion from the audience, Mitchelson said he will look into adding a video to help professors learn how to efficiently use diction while speaking with the mask on and save their voice.
ECU is prepared for the possibility that North Carolina could go back into a stay-at-home order that would force students to leave campus again in the fall, according to Mitchelson. He said it is something that he hopes does not happen but the eight-week block schedule allows for more flexibility than last year.
“We realize that it is possible that the world tries to re-open here and it is not in our best interest and that we get an executive order to go back home. That’s a possibility and in many ways that’s disastrous for our institution, for our students and for accomplishing the mission,” Mitchelson said.
As of now, ECU and the University of North Carolina System do not have an exact number of active cases on campus that would cause the university to go back online, according to Mitchelson. However, he said that decision and guidance will be on the system level if that situation arises.
Mitchelson said ECU will work with Pitt County Health Department to track and monitor cases to allow for more efficient testing and quarantine measures. He said staff should inform their supervisor if they develop symptoms and should not come to work.
Another town hall will be held on July 1 to address more questions and concerns surrounding the “Return of Pirate Nation.” More information on the plan can be found on ECU’s website.