Reopening Kutztown University in Fall 2020

Message from President Hawkinson to Faculty, Staff, Students and Broader Community

Read the full text of the above video

My warmest greetings to our faculty, staff, students, and all those in the broader communities we serve. We have sent pandemic updates to our community every few days since March, and have continually updated our pandemic webpage to reflect the evolution of our reopening plan. I encourage you all to thoroughly read the plan and frequently asked questions on the site.

In two weeks, we will welcome our students back to campus, and I want to take this opportunity to speak about why we are reopening our campus and the countless measures we have taken to mitigate risk to our community, while providing many choices and options to our students and employees. 

Last March, the president of our country and governor of our state directed that our nation and Pennsylvania should shut down in all but essential services and move as many functions as possible to online or telework. With the support of our staff, our faculty managed to convert 1,767 classes from face-to-face in just over a week. It was heroic work on the part of everyone involved and it resulted in a challenging, but successful, conclusion to the spring semester.

But we are not an online university.  I promised our current students, and future students, and so many others at the university and in our broader community, that we would have a residential experience for our students in the fall, assuming that our government leaders, health experts, and scientists determined that the risk was mitigated to the extent that allowed businesses and institutions to reopen.  Experts in the CDC, PDE, and the State System created protocols that universities could follow to reopen. The commonwealth reopened in May and June and, at this time, we continue to be in “green” and so have a responsibility to reopen following the recommendations of our governing entities.

The vast majority of our students want to come back as evidenced, at this time, by an amazing 10% increase in our freshman class, a record-breaking retention rate of nearly 80%, and an increase in our persistence rate. All these increases have occurred with our students and their families knowing that Kutztown University would resume its educational mission in a residential environment.

I realize how difficult it is for some of our faculty, staff, and students to deal with this challenge. But Kutztown University is not a thing in and of itself – we don’t reside on an island – we are fully integrated into our town and region and our 9,000 employees and students interact on a daily, if not hourly, basis with the many businesses, agencies, companies, schools, and broader communities all around us. Countless universities to including state-related schools, State System schools, community colleges, and private institutions are reopening much as we are – with scientific protocols in place and adjusted academic calendars. 

Understanding that risks exist and accommodations must be given when warranted, we have a responsibility not just to ourselves, but to this broader community to show resolve and fortitude in this unapparelled time. If our governor determines that we have to move online, as he did in March, then we will have to pivot in that direction – but we have a responsibility to do all we can to be a full partner with those around us, and to do all we reasonably can to not allow this virus to defeat us. 

All this said, there will be a new normal at KU.  While health experts have determined that there is little risk of serious illness for our healthy, traditional-aged students, there is risk for members of our community with underlying conditions. For this reason, we have suspended our two-year housing requirement, and all students who wish to remain home, or live off campus, for this coming year, may do so. We have relaxed all ADA and other requirements for our faculty, or others who share their household, resulting in about 40% of our professors documenting underlying conditions, allowing them to teach remote from their homes. The effort to accommodate our faculty in need has resulted in about 40% of our classes changed to an online or some type of virtual format. The remaining classes will be face-to-face, with many of these classes taught in a hybrid format, wherein students will rotate in their classes between being in person with their professor, or engaging with their class in real time from a computer. We have equipped over a hundred classrooms with this technology, and have purchased many hundreds of laptops to loan to students who may not have their own technology.

So, students have a choice to take all face-to-face classes, hybrid classes, or online classes.  Students have the option to change their schedules in the coming weeks to meet their needs.  Students will also have the option to cancel their housing and dining contracts, should they choose a different living arrangement.

Daily life on campus will be modified in that students and all other members of our community will be required to wear masks in all indoor and outdoor spaces (unless they can social distance), with the exception of their personal living space (residential staff will be sharing proper protocols for students living on campus). This is most particularly important in the classrooms. Appropriate social distancing will be in place and all students must wear masks in the classroom, with the exception of those students who cannot wear a mask for health reasons. Students who don’t wear a mask may be asked to leave the classroom until they comply with the mask requirement. All students and employees will be provided with two masks, a face shield, and other items, but should wear their personal masks when they initially arrive on campus. Professors may require students to wear a face shield as well as a mask, especially in situations when social distancing is not feasible. Your professors may choose to meet with you on Zoom, or using other forms of technology during their office hours or advising appointments. But our buildings will be open and you will continue to enjoy clubs and many other activities on our campus, keeping in mind the need for proper hygiene and social distancing. 

I am impressed by the bravery of young people working in restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses wherein they interact with hundreds of people each day. I note the fortitude of their parents who work in factories and other work sites that require in person interaction among employees. We, too, must show this fortitude – yes, this grit – that defines who we are. 

Three years ago, we went through the process of rebranding our university to better reflect who we are and we arrived at the theme – “It’s Good to be Golden,” wherein we celebrate the strong values of students past, present, and future.  The brand goes back to our roots as a university -- celebrating our first-generation students and students who come from working- and middle-class families, historically, from farms, coal mines, and the mills – and now from urban areas as well -- where strong character leads to hard work – to the fact that we have historically served students who have “grit.” Students and faculty and staff such as yourselves. 

Kutztown University is in its 154th year of existence. We are the beneficiaries of a powerful legacy that has persevered through economic crises, world wars, a great depression, and past pandemics. Now is the time for us to say “YES” to the future, whatever it may hold – to serve as a courageous example to others – to do what we know in our hearts is right … understanding that, if necessary, we may have to change course. I am very proud of the strength and resolve of our faculty, staff, and students – it is an honor to be among you. 

I will see you all on campus in a few weeks.

Indeed, it is Good to be Golden.