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University Meeting ushers in spring 2021 semester with message of hope

Published on January 27, 2021

University Meeting ushers in spring 2021 semester with message of hope

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Hundreds of Eastern Connecticut State University community members tuned into YouTube on Jan. 25 to watch President Elsa Núñez welcome them back to campus with an uplifting, inspiring message, amidst a health crisis that has forced many students, faculty and staff to study and work remotely for the past 10 months.

Provost Bill Salka opened the meeting, observing that the university is facing greater challenges than ever before — declining enrollment, budget deficits, increased competition for students and more.

Salka cited several signs of progress in declaring that Eastern is successfully meeting those challenges. “We finished a strategic plan, produced an employability plan, approved new learning outcomes for our students and provided them an exceptional liberal arts education. No public university in the state had more students in class and in residence halls this past fall than Eastern! We accomplished these things together. If we continue working together to face each new challenge, we will emerge stronger as an institution and face new challenges as they arise.”

English Professor and University Senate President Stephen Ferruci thanked his colleagues and the administration for a successful fall semester and encouraged the campus community to participate in Senate proceedings.

Before President Núñez talked about the university’s response to COVID-19, she addressed the mob attack on the Capitol in Washington D.C., on Jan. 6. In response to the assault on democracy, she encouraged faculty to engage students in discussions about what it means to be a citizen in the United States.

“This dialog must take place in most of our academic disciplines. I hope Eastern will be part of a determined and mindful movement across our nation to return to civility…in resolving our differences. We need to hold up our Eastern values — integrity and ethics, engagement, social responsibility, inclusion — as the foundational principles that we live by on this campus. And we must encourage all voices on this campus.”

The president then thanked everyone for keeping the campus safe and operating smoothly this past fall. She said the university operationalized its commitment with a carefully implemented plan. “We were the most restrictive school in the state regarding facemasks.”

Núñez also thanked the housing and student affairs staff for keeping resident students safe and engaged on campus, and thanked facilities staff and campus police for maintaining a safe and healthy campus.

“Our faculty were equally diligent,” she continued. “This past fall more than 60 percent of our courses were on-ground or hybrid classes on campus. For this spring semester, that percentage is even higher.”

Regarding vaccinations, the president said that any member of the faculty who is teaching face-to-face classes on campus this semester, as well as any staff members who are regularly scheduled to work on campus, will be part of the Phase 1b rollout. It will be a while before the University knows when, where and how students can get the vaccine.  Until then, she said all the safety precautions and guidelines must stay in place.

After the president spoke, three students shared their feelings about their COVID-19 experience at Eastern. Eugene Bertrand, a freshman from Meriden majoring in Pre-elementary education and history, thanked the faculty and staff for their support and said, “Some of my professors made themselves available after office hours and weekends by phone and email. Thank you for doing everything in your power to ensure that all students have access to quality education.”

Brianna Nolan, a junior from Watertown majoring in Spanish and elementary education, thanked her professors for their patience throughout the semester. She was especially grateful to the staff in housekeeping and Hurley Hall for cleaning the campus and preparing student meals to keep everyone safe. “You all really deserve a big special thank you for working twice as hard last semester.”

Ryan Tarko, a senior from Windsor Locks majoring in communication, said, “Because of the clear communication we were given on COVID-19 regarding our testing and positive cases, I never felt unsafe or in harm while living on campus. I am proud to be a Warrior now more than ever!”

During the meeting, the University also recognized several individuals for their years of service. Ten-year awards were presented to David Blanchette Jr, landscape technician; Starsheemar Byrum, director of the Unity Center; custodians Albert Gomez and Sharon Torres; and Amie Lopez, infant toddler teacher.

Awards for 20 years of service were presented to Tara Hurt, librarian; Cheryl Le Beau, secretary 2; Jane Murack, library technician; and Renee Theroux-Keech, director of facilities management and planning. Kevin Gill, director of ITS support services, who is retiring, was honored for his 21 years of service.

Written by Dwight Bachman