Tony Frank: On COVID-19

I had been at Colorado State University for only a few years in the summer of 1997, when a late-July storm flooded the Fort Collins campus and surrounding community, leaving devastation in its wake.

Then-CSU President Al Yates challenged the campus community to rally, turn adversity to advantage, and dig in to do the hard work so classes could start on schedule. At the time, the hard work included shoveling piles of soaking debris from the campus bookstore, salvaging items from the flooded library, and aiding faculty members whose lifetimes of work on paper had been swept away overnight. And as always, the people of CSU rose to the challenge – even making T-shirts with the slogan, “CSU: Can’t Stop Us.”

You can’t stop CSU. We’ve seen this vividly demonstrated again this week as we’ve joined the rest of the state and country in adopting strict social-distancing protocols to protect our people and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. As I write this, thousands of our faculty and staff members in Fort Collins and Pueblo are working through their spring breaks to get courses online so our students can finish the semester seamlessly. Our Housing and Dining and Facilities teams are cleaning and disinfecting our buildings. And our on-campus teams – from IT Help Desk staffs to HR – are busy figuring out how to keep education, communication, and support services going at a distance. For CSU Global, which always operates 100% online, the impacts are less enormous, but the commitment to support students, faculty, and staff is just as strong.

It’s a new set of challenges we face – no set playbook to draw from. So, it’s time to think anew and act anew, as Lincoln famously said in his 1862 message to Congress. And CSU is doing just that. All of this should help dispel the false but lingering perception that today’s system of higher education is lumbering and slow to change. The innovative spirit and inventiveness required to take a place-based institution online in a matter of days is what drives our campuses every day, not just in times of crisis. That commitment to learn, evolve, and find new solutions to old problems is always at the heart of our universities.

There is at least one critical part of our operations that won’t be disrupted in the coming weeks, and that’s the team of CSU researchers who are actively engaged at this moment in helping to create a COVID-19 vaccine. To quote John Ingold’s excellent recent piece in The Colorado Sun, CSU researchers “are among a handful of teams across the globe racing to develop a vaccine in record-setting time.” If we needed a reminder of why science matters in our daily lives, this is it. Science has been at the heart of detecting and informing decision making at every step of this outbreak, and science will eventually find a cure.

In the meantime, the rest of us in the CSU System will continue to engage in the business of higher education: educating students (albeit, in new formats); carrying on vital research and scholarship (adapting and relocating our work as needed); and making knowledge and resources available to those who need them (through online sources for now, out of respect for the need to limit public gatherings). You can’t stop CSU.

Finally, I want to offer a special thanks to our three CSU System presidents and their teams – Joyce McConnell in Fort Collins, Becky Takeda-Tinker at Global, and Tim Mottet in Pueblo – for their exceptional work and long hours to manage the virus response for their institutions. For the latest information and updates from the campuses, visit:

Best wishes to all of you as we navigate this public health crisis together. Now, go wash your hands!

-tony

P.S. As human beings, we’ll all navigate the stresses of this moment in time in our own ways. The CSU family hopes you’ll find time to take care of yourself and each other, albeit it possibly in new ways! For myself, I’m looking forward to the Cubs being undefeated well into the summer – another first. Be well.

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