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University Meeting opens fall 2021 with ‘cautious optimism’

Published on September 01, 2021

University Meeting opens fall 2021 with ‘cautious optimism’

President Elsa Núñez
President Elsa Núñez addresses faculty and staff at the fall 2021 University meeting. 

The Aug. 25 University Meeting marked the fifth straight time since May of 2020 that faculty and staff across campus were forced to meet virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting was marked by cautious optimism for the fall semester; gratitude for the effort put forth by faculty, students and staff the past 18 months; and a realization that we must remain vigilant in following health and safety protocols to manage COVID-19 on campus.

Provost William Salka opened the meeting with words of appreciation: “It is wonderful to see our students back on campus. It is as if our campus has come back to life after a long winter’s sleep.”

Salka reminded faculty and staff that many students are back on campus taking on-ground classes for the first time in more than a year, and may have anxiety and other challenges in returning to campus. “As they struggle, they are going to need your support.”

University Senate President Stephen Ferruci used the metaphor of a silo and colorful imagery to encourage everyone to come out of their ivory towers, where “we are stuck and left to ferment into a moist, mono-cultural silage. Make it a point to connect with other parts of the university. This year, stand up and say the silage ends.”

President Elsa Núñez praised the campus community for its “incredible resilience and resolve” and being diligent in following health and safety protocols over the past 18 months. She cited impressive statistics — 94 percent of the nearly 2,000 residential students vaccinated; of almost 2,000 commuter students, 80 percent vaccinated; and approximately 100 students who are residential granted a medical or non-medical exemption.” Those are staggering numbers when one considers the deadly challenge of the coronavirus.

“You did some amazing things,” said Núñez. “Eastern had the highest percentage of on-ground courses in our state university system — double that of our sister institutions. Despite being on campus more than our peers, we also consistently had the lowest weekly COVID positivity rates in the state. All of this happened because our students, faculty and staff took the virus seriously and followed protocols.”

Núñez also spoke with pride on Eastern’s response to the pandemic since COVID-19 first disrupted our lives in March 2020. In the past 18 months, the University has launched two new majors — Anthropology and Data Science — and this fall, will start a Psychology concentration in Cognitive Neuroscience, as well as a minor in Medical Interpreting in Spanish. The Education Department is offering a master’s degree in Special Education.

Núñez noted the hard work, innovation and commitment to students, shown by the faculty, CIT, the library and others in responding to COVID by improving flexibility in offering courses. “Whether it was implementing technology for online and hybrid classes, adjusting pedagogy to adjust to remote environments, or developing new courses and course content, everyone helped in producing a positive result.”

The president also recognized the work of the Division of Student Affairs. “Counseling Services responded to the mental health challenges of students facing the stress of the pandemic by providing 5,000 hours of counseling; Health Services helped to administer more than 25,000 student COVID tests and provided on-campus health care to the students who came down with the virus; student volunteers in the Center for Community Engagement conducted 700 weekly programs over the year; and out athletes won four LEC championships and two NCAA tournament bids. Our athletes won the Presidents’ Cup for a record sixth time for having the best academic performance in the conference. Go Warriors!”

“It has been an exhausting, harrowing time. Yet in some way, each of you stepped up to keep this university running and our students “in the game.” I cannot thank you enough nor could I be prouder of you!”

Regarding the budget, Núñez said a year ago, with existing students staying away from campus due to health concerns due to COVID-19, the administration was very concerned how this would impact University reserves. “However, now that the 2020-21 year is over, your prudent financial management resulted in savings on many fronts, and I am pleased to report that our finances emerged largely intact with a balanced budget. In addition to the substantial savings that we were able to realize, federal and state relief funds also provided substantial relief. The bottom line was that we ended the year with a $300,000 positive balance, which we have transferred to our reserve balance.”

However, while the University anticipates using only $2.7 million to balance the new budget, structural enrollment declines due to demographic changes in New England will place increasing pressure on Eastern’s ability to maintain current operations. “It will take all of us working together to determine how to move forward while maintaining our financial stability.”

Nunez said the University’s new Employability Plan will include use of the Burning Glass platform by students, Eastern faculty and the Center for Internships and Career Development. Burning Glass is a data base showing skills needed by employers; will help faculty develop new academic programs; and will help students use occupational trends, job growth in emerging occupations and salary potential to identify potential jobs.

Nunez said the biggest reason we all are here to prepare our students for life. She said she believes there are three distinct issues that we must continue to address on this campus—respect for individuals, for groups of people and for the ideas of others.

“First, we must continue to teach our students how to respect individuals, specifically, women on our campus. Secondly, we must continue to teach our students how to respect other cultures — people who may not look or talk like us or practice the same customs. Finally, we must continue to teach our students to respect diverse ideas — ideas they may not hold.”

Nunez concluded, saying, “On this campus we must protect the right of everyone at Eastern to speak freely on the issues that impact all of us. We also must ensure that the tone of the dialog on this campus reflects our values. All of us deserve to be treated with dignity as human beings.”

During the meeting, the university presented employees with awards for their years of dedicated service to the university. Ten-year awards were presented to Meredith Metcalf, professor in the Environmental Earth Sciences Department; Kristen Morgan, associate professor of New Media Studies and Theatre; and Jennifer Pelletier, systems administrator in ITS.

The university presented 20-year awards to Mathematical Sciences professor Anthony Aidoo; Education professor Theresa Bouley; English professor Meredith Clermont-Ferrand; Economics professor Maryanne Clifford; Darren Dale, associate professor of health science; Craig Erwin, associate professor of management and marketing; Mathematical Sciences Professor Peter Johnson; Anthropology professor Mary Kenny; Gayl Osuba, associate in human resources; Mike Palumbo, technical support specialist; Diana Pepin, head softball coach; Anthropology professor Ricardo Pérez; Computer Science professor Joel Rosiene; Russell Sampson, physical sciences professor; English professor Christopher Torockio; and Mathematics professor Christian Yankov.

Awards were also presented for 25 years of service to Edmond Chibeau, associate professor of Communication; Psychology professor Luis Cordón; accounting and BIS professor Jeff Schaller; and Education professor Sudha Swaminathan. Four Eastern faculty and staff retired and were recognized for their many years of dedicated service to the University. They include Pat Chaves, administrative assistant; John Luond, electrician; Kathy Martel, unit supervisor in the Bursars Office; and Elizabeth “Libby” Scott, interim dean of the School of Education and Professional Studies and professor of Business Administration

Written by Dwight Bachman