Posted 8:59 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020

Chancellor Joe Gow, shown in this 2018 photo, delivered his opening address virtually on Wednesday, sharing how the university has prepared to face COVID-19 and other challenges. Gow was joined by the university's vice chancellors, who provided updates on their specialty areas.

Gow, vice chancellors give opening address before fall semester

UW-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow and other administrators detailed how the campus is preparing for an unconventional fall semester during the Chancellor’s Opening Address Wednesday afternoon.

Instead of the traditional hourlong address by Gow, this year’s virtual event featured comments from both the chancellor and the university’s vice chancellors. Each summarized the steps their teams have taken to keep students and employees safe, and to adapt to the myriad challenges posed by COVID-19.

“Were we under normal circumstances, we’d be talking about record enrollment and our strong financial picture, but COVID-19 has cast a cloud over that,” said Gow, noting that the university’s enrollment and finances are still strong.

Preliminary figures show that UWL is within 1% of last year’s enrollment, when the university set an enrollment record. Those numbers are encouraging, Gow said, at a time when some people are questioning the value of colleges reopening.

“We need to do this for students and families, and clearly, they want the UWL experience, even if it’s a modified one,” Gow said. “What we do — educating people at a crucial stage in their development — is certainly an essential job in the long run.”

Vitaliano Figueroa, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, shared how the campus is helping promote physical distancing — including opening 14 dining locations, offering grab-and-go meal options, and removing unneeded furniture around campus.  

He also provided an overview of the campus’ health and safety procedures, such as when to isolate or quarantine and how often students will be tested. These procedures will be reiterated and updated throughout the fall semester.

It was also a busy summer for campus building projects.

Wittich Hall’s renovation was completed and the Badger Street Mall was constructed. And work is now underway on the $49 million Student Fieldhouse east of Roger Harring Stadium.

All 36 campus buildings have also been modified due to COVID-19.

Classrooms will be equipped with touchless hand sanitizer stations, and offices will be equipped with plexiglass barriers. Floor stickers and furniture decals will remind students and employees to keep their distance.

And the HVAC systems have been checked to ensure they are producing the necessary air flow.

“It’s going to be an unusual fall semester,” said Bob Hetzel, vice chancellor for Administration and Finance. “But we’re doing the best we can to make sure we’re mindful of the spread of the virus.”

Part of this mindfulness involves the blend of in-person, online and hybrid classes being offered this fall.

Provost Betsy Morgan shared that 64% of courses will be either hybrid or in-person, while 36% will be fully online.

Faculty will also be better prepared than they were during the spring semester, when the rapid spread of COVID-19 led to an equally rapid transition to virtual instruction. Approximately 90% of fall instructors recently completed an instinctive two- or three-week training on online and/or hybrid teaching.

“All of us have just been extraordinarily proud and humbled by the work of UWL staff, faculty and students, using the spring as a launch board for the fall,” Morgan said. “It has not gone unnoticed.”

The pandemic has also forced University Advancement, particularly the Alumni Association, to embrace new practices.

“Everything we do is about engaging people, building relationships with them,” explained Greg Reichert, vice chancellor for University Advancement. “Needless to say, the last six months have really changed the way we do business.”

Changes have included more stewardship calls and donor cultivation, more virtual events, and more efforts to engage the community.

One recent project, led by Community Engagement, will help ensure that off-campus students have access to personal protective equipment.

Finally, Barbara Stewart, vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, shared how the university is promoting racial justice after the police killing of George Floyd and the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

The university has created a work group to address policies and practices that may serve as barriers to staff, faculty and students of color. The group plans to provide a mid-semester report, and to make recommendations to campus leadership during the spring semester.

Like everything else, Stewart said, efforts to foster diversity and inclusion on campus are made even more difficult by COVID-19, but the university can’t afford to put them off.

“We’ve tried to be creative in the way we provide services, programming and virtual events for our students,” she said. “We’re working hard to make sure we put students first and provide them as much of a normal experience as possible.”

Chancellor Gow and Provost Morgan also recognized numbers faculty and staff awards, including:

  • Academic Staff Excellence Award: Abby Deyo, Student Health Center
  • University Staff Excellence Award: Kathy Thoen, CASSH
  • Eagle Excellence in Academic Advising Award: Virginie Cassidy
  • Eagle Excellence in Teaching Awards: Tushar Das, Christa Kiersch, Barrett Klein, Lisa Kruse, Greg Ormes and Megan Strom.