Perseverantia: Fitchburg State University Podcast Network

THE EMPTY CAMPUS: 3. The Essentials

August 18, 2023 Fitchburg State University Season 1 Episode 3
THE EMPTY CAMPUS: 3. The Essentials
Perseverantia: Fitchburg State University Podcast Network
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Perseverantia: Fitchburg State University Podcast Network
THE EMPTY CAMPUS: 3. The Essentials
Aug 18, 2023 Season 1 Episode 3
Fitchburg State University

In THE EMPTY CAMPUS, students in the spring 2022 Honors Seminar in History gathered thirty-six oral histories about the Fitchburg State community’s experience of the Covid 19 pandemic. They turned their research into this podcast to begin the process of reflecting on these events.  Episode 3: The Essentials is the next installment in this series. 

When the Fitchburg State campus went silent in March 2020, it remained so for months to come. But its emptiness belied the continued pace of work and change. I n Episode 3, Fitchburg State administrators, staff, faculty, and students reflect on the difficult decisions made during the pandemic all while feeling isolated.

Find out more about the Empty Campus project at the Fitchburg State University Archives.

This episode was first recorded in Spring 2022.  The five-part series was remastered for Perseverantia, in Spring 2023 by Matt Baier, a student in the Communications Media department and member of the Perseverantia staff.

Episode transcript available here. 

Click here to learn more about Perseverantia . Join us for programming updates on Instagram. Or reach out with ideas or suggestions at podcasts@fitchburgstate.edu.

Show Notes Transcript

In THE EMPTY CAMPUS, students in the spring 2022 Honors Seminar in History gathered thirty-six oral histories about the Fitchburg State community’s experience of the Covid 19 pandemic. They turned their research into this podcast to begin the process of reflecting on these events.  Episode 3: The Essentials is the next installment in this series. 

When the Fitchburg State campus went silent in March 2020, it remained so for months to come. But its emptiness belied the continued pace of work and change. I n Episode 3, Fitchburg State administrators, staff, faculty, and students reflect on the difficult decisions made during the pandemic all while feeling isolated.

Find out more about the Empty Campus project at the Fitchburg State University Archives.

This episode was first recorded in Spring 2022.  The five-part series was remastered for Perseverantia, in Spring 2023 by Matt Baier, a student in the Communications Media department and member of the Perseverantia staff.

Episode transcript available here. 

Click here to learn more about Perseverantia . Join us for programming updates on Instagram. Or reach out with ideas or suggestions at podcasts@fitchburgstate.edu.

Matt Baier:
The Empty Campus series was originally produced in Spring 2022 as part of the Honors Seminar in History with Professor Katherine Jewell. Students conducted 36 oral histories with various members of the campus community about COVID-19 at Fitchburg State. 

These interviews are now housed in the university archives and available for researchers. To interpret what they found, the students constructed five thematic episodes, remastered in Spring 2023 for Perseverantia, by Matt Baier. 

Find out more about the empty campus and our other series at www.fitchburgstate.edu/podcasts.

[ 0min 36sec ] 

[ series theme fades in ]

Maddy Waterson (host):
Welcome back to Perseverantia. Last time we heard about the students and faculty that got pushed away from campus when the pandemic first arrived. Today we'll look at those who had to keep working on campus. This is “Episode 3: The Essentials.” 

[ series theme fades out ]

Maddy Waterson (host):
Fitchburg State lists sustaining a supportive campus environment for students, faculty, staff, and alumni, in which all members can grow and excel in their personal and professional lives, as a core value of the university.

What happens to the campus when students and faculty are forced away? What happens when the core of the campus is forced away?  VP of Student Affairs, Dr. Laura Bayless, was among those who stayed on campus. She vividly remembers the experience.

[ 1min 18sec ] 

Dr. Laura Bayless:
It's terrible!  It was the weirdest thing. I would come to work and there's ten cars on campus and, in some ways, it was masked for me a little bit because I would just come here and I would come to my office.  And all of these offices, like right around this hallway, are filled because we're all working here.  But campus was dead. Quiet.

The buildings were not open. There's no running over to Hammond for some tea.  There's no grabbing lunch in the dining hall.

Maddy Waterson (host):
Administration was faced with endless challenges to try and get the university working in its new setting. University President Richard Lapidus provided a relatively detailed account of the work being done on all levels of the University.

[ 2min 02sec ] 

President Richard Lapidus:
On the back end, the things that people tend not to think about, we had to figure out how to activate our business continuity plan. How is this place going to operate remotely as well?  So all of a sudden people had to figure out teleworking. 

So we're disassembling the infrastructure here and sending people home with all kinds of equipment that wasn't necessarily designed to be used that way so that the university could operate.

Maddy Waterson (host):
The influx of work and the transition into a state of emergency forced the university to focus more on efficiency and making incredibly quick decisions. An unfortunate drawback of that is the information those who were away from campus received about these decisions was incredibly limited. 

Student Government President Kerry McManus knew this all too well.

[ 2min 48sec ] 

Kerry McManus:
Student government has pestered them many times, but I always wish that the administration had been more willing to come to student government, so we could provide them the student perspective and that student feedback before some of their larger decisions were made. Because there were a few times where decisions were made, we were kind of like, “Oh, wait, what's happening?”

For the most part, they did very well. And after we, you know, moaned and complained and whined about not getting enough student input in these decisions the students were rather worked up about, it got much better from that point on.

Unidentified Student:
A lot of students still don't know that Health Services isn't on campus or incoming freshmen or just incoming students in general.  I also worked at the info desk as a building manager, but I also worked as an info desk manager last year and there'd be so many times when people would come up to me asking where Health Services are, and I would have to try to explain to them that it is actually not on campus and that if they want to go, it's like a 30 to 40 minute walk.  So I think the advertising of Health Services being off campus could have been much better.

Maddy Waterson (host):
Steven Olson, student trustee at the time of the decision, expressed a lot of frustration about how the decision was handled.

Steven Olson:
It became clear to us after the fact, like, okay, maybe this was an okay decision. You know, the University was in a bad spot with the pandemic. It's my understanding that everyone who was employed in the Health Services office was older and closer to retirement. So some of them just took an early retirement or they found employment elsewhere, or just simply didn't want to work in health care through a pandemic.

So Fitchburg was kind of left at the crossroads of “Do we hire a whole new health services staff and re-equip the Health Services Office to deal with the pandemic? Or do we go with Community Health Connections over on Water Street to try and get that as a substitute?”  That was hashed out over the summer when classes weren't running, Student Government was out of session, the Board of Trustees was not meeting. 

[ 4min 39sec ] 

Steven Olson:
Students had no say in that decision and trying to retroactively say, “Hey guys, what's going on here?” was very tough – because the decision was made about us without us. And it's tough to think like, “Oh yeah, in the middle of a pandemic, your health services is gone!”

From what I understand from residents, the overall just vibe of campus after that decision was off. And I think that's the decision that kind of set us on the course to where we are now. I want to emphasize this. They made a decision because they had to and they were short on time. And I understand that that's how the pandemic’s been.

[ 5min 13sec ] 

Maddy Waterson (host):
President Lapidus gives more context on the move from an administrative perspective.

Pres. Lapidus:
That decision really wasn't a COVID-related decision. That was in the works, I think, before COVID hit. And the concern there was that student need at this institution and across the state has been growing. We're seeing more and more students with either health issues that they have or health issues that they're not addressing. And sort of the old fashioned Health Services that we had really didn't have a broad enough reach service.

So we had two nurses that were working five days a week with specified hours in a very small facility for which we couldn't grow or enhance the services because medical facilities have specific requirements for the environment. A lot of it revolving around HVAC, air circulation, etc..

Maddy Waterson (host):
So the university was left with the decision to build a whole new medical facility or outsource.

[ 6min 22sec ] 

Pres. Lapidus:
So the thinking was that if we could get students in front of doctors or other professional providers, along with a bank of nurses where you now could go any time of the day or night. Lab services, optical – that we were providing a broader array of services.  And we found so far – we will survey students, actually, in the fall to see how they're liking it – But what we are seeing is that those services are being taken advantage of, particularly around behavioral and mental health. 

So now we have psychology professionals, even psychiatry professionals, working with students that can dose serious medications if needed.  The payments for eyecare and dental care, they’re the highest.  And so now students are taking advantage of that. You know, only time will tell. But I know that there are some cons to taking it off campus, but I thought the pros outweighed the cons. And so that's what we did.

[ 7min 22sec ] 

Maddy Waterson (host):
In the midst of chaos, even faculty members were sometimes left in the dark. Brad Cohrs, Director of the University's Recreation Center, expressed his frustrations.

Brad Cohrs:
With communications that can take place with people being off campus, and so I certainly hope that the university learned a great deal as far as efficiency and productivity – that it's not essential for us to always be in person. 

That being said, especially with the student interaction, I think one thing we realized is how much we maybe took for granted – just how great that was to have the student interaction and how important that was for growth, really, to have people here and to have them benefiting from really being in the Rec Center.

[ 7min 58sec ] 

Maddy Waterson (host):
The work that administration completed on campus clearly had a large impact on those off campus. Steven Olson, a commuter student who lives in nearby Lunenburg, relied heavily on the social experience of going to campus and seeing friends and classmates. Here he is discussing the shock he experienced seeing the university in its emergency state.

Steven Olson:
Because I live 6 minutes away from campus.  That’s my drive into campus, 6 minutes. Because I had nothing else to do, I would just go out and drive around. And I would drive down North Street and there would be not a soul in sight. There would be no cars, no anything, nothing there, nobody. And it was almost eerie. 

It really hit me when I would drive past the Civic Center in the Landry Arena, because the Landry Arena, as we know, became a temporary morgue and they had privacy fencing up, surrounding that.  But it wasn't very good privacy fencing. It was temporary. It was just like that construction fencing with the green tarp on it, kind of green like canvas. And you could see straight through it and you could see the refrigerator trucks, so you could see the people working. 

It was a – I don't want to say humbling experience. There's not really a word I can use to describe that.

[ 9min 02sec ] 

Maddy Waterson (host):
Life on campus was just as difficult as life at home. Despite being physically present, the essential faculty at the university felt disconnected from the rest of the campus community. They still needed to make decisions to ensure the University didn't collapse as a result of online learning – and the disconnect between administration and faculty and students ultimately contributed to the outcomes of those decisions.

[ theme music fades in ]

Maddy Waterson (host):
Perseverantia is a production at Fitchburg State University. I'm your host, Maddy Waterson. This podcast was produced as part of Dr. Katherine Jewell’s Honors History Seminar in History in the Spring of 2022. Special thanks to Asher Jackson and the staff at the Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio Library, Kisha Tracy, and the Fitchburg State University Economics, History and Political Science Department, as well as the Fitchburg State University Honors Program.

You can find all episodes of Perseverantia, as well as our bibliographies and our entire archive on our website sites.google.com/fitchburgstate.edu/FSUCOVID19.

[ series theme fades out ]

[ 10min 03sec ]

Max Eisenhaure:
This is Max Eisenhaure, a junior from Simsbury, Connecticut, – [ Perseverantia Podcast Network theme fades in ] –  majoring in CommMedia with an intensive in Game Design. And you're listening to Perseverantia, the Fitchburg State Podcast Network.

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