'5 Questions With' Harlan Sands, president of Cleveland State University

1. Now that we are eight months into the pandemic, what have been a few of your greatest challenges?

  • First and foremost: keeping our faculty, staff and students safe. Since March 6, everything we do to educate students, no matter what it involves, has our collective health and safety as a prime driver.

  • Second: how to create and deliver a meaningful and robust curriculum for fall 2020 with as many classes on-campus as we can safely offer. Thanks to our pandemic response team’s work – with our faculty as key team members, partners and contributors – we have used our 85-acre campus to its fullest to minimize our footprint and provide as normal a campus experience as possible.

  • Third, transitioning to a remote working environment so that we can shift our on-campus presence further toward students and required educational services. New ways to support students and our staff through enhanced technology (laptops, hotspots), new ways of checking in with one another (supervisors and teams making the most of Zoom), and more frequent, timely, and accurate communications (town halls, email updates, and social media) are now part of our standard routine.

    The good news so far: after 2 weeks back on campus, our data-driven plan to have a successful semester is off to a strong start.

2. What have you been most proud of as to how the CSU Community has responded to the pandemic?

  • How we have pulled together as one CSU and one community. During a crisis, you learn very quickly about your culture, and we learned fast how hard everyone was willing to work and join hands to get us ready for today. I am truly grateful to all of our staff and faculty for staying calm through uncharted waters and working tirelessly to create a “healthy campus” action plan that addressed our collective concerns.

3. How have you challenged the CSU students to be safe during the pandemic as they come back to the campus?

  • “WE CAN DO THIS” is our theme, and everything we “coach” centers around personal responsibility. Everywhere on campus you’ll see our collective efforts to promote safe health practices: “Safe Campus” signage with reminders on how to protect ourselves, ingress and egress pathway markers, ample hand sanitizing stations, 2000+ welcome kits with masks and personal hygiene items and student campus ambassadors out in full force reminding students of our responsibility to protect each other. We also have doubled our cleaning staff to keep common spaces sanitized.

4. How has CSU helped the community at large with the pandemic?

  • By being a university that built a fairly aggressive on-campus class schedule, supported by our faculty and staff, that has helped convince our community it is safe to come back downtown, it is safe to be in our campus buildings, and it is healthier for all of us to have college kids engaged and back in classrooms. If we continue on our current path, and have a significant on-campus presence throughout the fall, it will go a long way toward showing our larger community that we can deal with this virus in a way that gets us some of the way back to “normalcy” as it relates to higher education and the urban college experience.

5. How will this pandemic change the way higher education operates?

  • We are learning more about this every day, and we are collecting data both inside and outside the classroom to drive what we will do over the longer term. We are using this knowledge to reimagine our future as a part of our “CSU 2.0” initiative, a collective look at where we are, the changing needs of our society around us, and where we need to go to fulfill our mission and commitment to NEO.   

6. What lessons have you learned during this crisis?

  • First, that every crisis presents opportunity.  I mentioned our CSU 2.0 work, where we are focusing our efforts in 5 distinct areas -- Academics, Administration, Diversity & Inclusion, Athletics, and Growth/Innovation. This work will prioritize and hone in on more specific recommendations arising from this crisis that will further refine our future strategic priorities, teaching and learning pedagogies, alignment of resources, and investments.
  • Second, that our region’s success is tied more than ever to our ability to deliver more talented graduates to meet our evolving workforce needs. Our future is tied to investing in premier talent for this region, investing in enrollment growth and in our continuing commitment to “engaged learning”: Co-ops, internships and other hands-on learning that have proven critical to local employers and sustained employment for our students.
  • And third: that we will NEVER underestimate our collective strength to respond in a crisis and do things we never thought possible. Our enrollment and student progression numbers are strong, and that is a credit to each and every member of our CSU team. We will emerge from this stronger and readier for our collective future!
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