A Historic Turning Point in Higher Education

Thoughts on the Pandemic from President Donald Birx

Plymouth State University’s 150th anniversary year has started off unlike any in our history. COVID-19 is illuminating the great strength of our flexible culture, which has historically embraced adaption and innovation. Whether here in person or virtually, Panthers are working together and pooling our talents, demonstrating how capable we are in rising to the occasion and meeting challenges.

After completing Spring 2020 in an all-online format, we had in-depth faculty training in May followed by further professional development this summer. Over 100 faculty members acquired new skills and many have been certified for best practices in online teaching. Cutting-edge learning strategies have been incorporated into this fall’s courses, and although PSU is built on in-person instruction we are providing online delivery better than ever.

A dozen task force teams made up of faculty, staff, and students met all summer and considered every aspect of reopening. The health and safety of the campus community is our highest priority, and we are continually fine-tuning procedures based on the latest data and recommendations. With a robust testing program, comprehensive safety guidelines, and advanced teaching and technology formats, we are as well prepared as humanly possible.

Students told us overwhelmingly that they wanted to return to campus, and we have a large class eagerly beginning its studies and participating in adapted activities. We’ve been modifying campus for safety considerations practically nonstop since March, thanks to our dedicated Physical Plant staff, and our residence halls are filled. Commuting and online students have been welcomed as well, and teaching and learning are taking place through a mix of in-person, hybrid, and remote classes.

We have bought large amounts of PPE, masks, face shields, and plexiglass; improved air circulation and fixed windows; mapped classrooms for social distancing; cleaned buildings; tested students, faculty, and staff; set up our own scanning facility; equipped classrooms for multimode delivery; developed quarantine processes and set up isolation facilities; and launched a campaign to address student risky behaviors.

Plymouth State is fortunate to be in a region of low COVID incidence. We have processes to control spread should the virus break out, but remain vigilant and are closely watching trends. PSU is prepared for numerous scenarios, including for a staged shutdown, if necessary. All of our plans have been thoroughly vetted and approved by state and national health experts.

Helping one another and serving our community are fundamental to PSU, and as a community we’ve stepped forward in many ways. Our motto, Ut Prosim (That I may serve), is more salient than ever, as we partner with alumni, the town of Plymouth, local businesses, and regional organizations. We are truly all in this together, and together we’re better.

We are at a historic turning point in higher education, which will be forever changed by the pandemic. Colleges and universities are also grappling with the important questions raised by the Black Lives Matter movement, among other pressing issues of the day. We all have questions that may not have ready answers, but Plymouth State is a strong, supportive community that is committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for respectful discussion.

Stay tuned for our plans for 150th anniversary events. No dates are set yet, but we hope you can join us in celebration of the strong school spirit that is so evident in this extraordinary year.