The leaders of the State University System of Florida want to be better prepared if another pandemic hits.
They met to discuss strategies for doing so on Wednesday in a conference call that University of South Florida Provost Dr. Ralph C. Wilcox led. He is the chair of the Florida Board of Governors’ Steering Committee, which discussed with the full board the plans to form a post-pandemic committee.
The overall goal on Wednesday was to outline what they had learned during the COVID-19 pandemic and how those lessons would impact the future of online education.
“It’s fair to say we have learned a lot of important lessons,” Wilcox said. “We are eager to share and assess best practices as we prepare for the coming academic year.”
The COVID-19 pandemic, he said, has made the committee sensitive to challenges stemming from future crises.
To control the spread of the virus, different preventive health measures were put into place across the dozen state university campuses, including daily temperature checks, symptom checks, regular hand washing, use of hand sanitizer, physical distancing and random testing protocols.
Efforts at some schools were evidently more successful than others, according to The New York Times’ project that tracks coronavirus cases on campuses nationwide. Its data, last updated in mid-December, showed the University of Florida had more confirmed cases (5,630) than the combined total of the four with the next most cases — University of Central Florida (2,301), Florida State University (1,904), University of South Florida (973) and Florida Gulf Coast University (528).
Still, UF’s positive case totals have slowed considerably since the beginning of the spring 2021 semester, with mandatory testing in place for students taking in-person classes.
Throughout the last 12 months, universities have continued providing essential services such as academic advising, student health care and mental health counseling. New programs were established, including laptop loaner programs and hotspots for those who had limited online connectivity.
But the university system couldn’t control or limit all negative impacts, Wilcox noted.
“The most common regret the committee hears is a loss of attachment to campus communities,” he said, “specifically the loneliness that comes with isolation.”
Students and staff have an “appetite” to return to campus for in-person classes and extracurricular activities.
Provosts across the state have begun to imagine a brighter future for public higher education in Florida, after all that has occurred in the last year.
They recommended establishing the planning workgroup to ensure readiness for the next pandemic or crisis that may occur. This group will assure institutional and system-wide readiness for the next pandemic or like crises, examine the need for changing budget models and guiding priorities for future investments.
Chairman of the Board of Governors Syd Kitson said he believes this initiative is an opportunity to implement changes permanently into the state university system.
The next Florida Board of Governors Meeting will be held on March 23.