The Panther community expressed exuberance today over the prospect of gathering in unlimited numbers as Summer B classes start on Monday, June 21.
University leaders provided detailed information and answered dozens of questions at a town hall meeting as an atmosphere of collective excitement and positive anticipation grew among the 60 individuals physically in attendance while another 900+ watched online.
“The dynamic on this campus as we are ramping up is palpable,” said Senior Vice President of Academic & Student Affairs Elizabeth Bejar of the coming full return by students, faculty and staff. “GC has a little bit of that rhythm back to it.”
The work of FIU has continued unabated throughout the pandemic, with research, teaching and outreach taking place in various ways, shapes and forms, even culminating, in April, in a 12-month period that saw the single highest number of students graduate in the university’s history. Fully repopulating the campus has taken on new importance and meaning following several days of exceptionally good news.
On Tuesday, FIU announced that philanthropist MacKenzie Scott had donated $40 million in unrestricted funds to the university, an unexpected windfall that President Mark B. Rosenberg has said will be used to fuel student success.
On Monday, FIU learned that annual performance-based funding—money given by the state in proportion to an institution’s improvement and achievement—will be based on the highest rating ever received not just by FIU but by any public university in Florida’s State University System.
Rosenberg lauded employees for their hard work and commitment in propelling the university forward under the most difficult of times.
“That demonstrates to me the importance that you give to the kinds of things that we’re getting done,” Rosenberg said. “We persevered. We’ve galvanized around the idea of getting better at being better. We have come out stronger.”
Now, in the wake of decreasing virus positivity rates and increasing vaccination rates, and in accordance with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ orders, FIU will operate without the requirements of social distancing and mask wearing and without restrictions on the number of people who can congregate. Campus events, full-capacity classrooms and open access to spaces such as the libraries and recreation centers will allow for a return to life that resembles something closer to pre-pandemic times.
In one example of the unversity’s ability to get to that long hoped-for reality, Provost and Executive Vice President Kenneth G. Furton announced that more than 40,000 students would be taking classes over the summer—a number far greater than most universities’ fall enrollments. He noted as well that FIU continues to welcome a student body that is roughly 50 percent Pell Grant eligible, meaning students who come from households with some of the lowest income levels. That such students have continued their educations and pushed through hardship to better themselves and work toward degrees—FIU now has a 60 percent four-year graduation rate, a high level that is almost unheard of among large urban, public universities—speaks to the work of faculty and support staff dedicated to getting such young people to the finish line.
“In short, we are living a dream. Working at this university is a blessing,” Furton said. “We’re supporting people who are very talented, focused and purpose-driven.”
Even as FIU prepares to fully open facilities—for months, begining in the fall, personnel have alternated between working at home and on campus while residence halls housed students and research labs saw rotating shifts of investigators—university officials made clear their ongoing commitment to the health and welfare of all. Dr. Eneida Roldan has overseen the university’s coronavirus response throughout the past 15+ months, and she reiterated that personal responsibility and good practices are among the keys to keeping the community safe.
“Knowledge is power and evidence-based is the way to go,” she said of how FIU has proceeded throughout the pandemic. In addition to following strict CDC guidelines, FIU offered multiple testing sites on campus, developed a mobile application to help FIU members determine their own health status before arriving on campus and rolled out vaccinations to employees and students and those living in their households.
“The pandemic is not gone, but we have learned a lot,” Roldan said. She asked for a show of respect for others’ decisions with regard to either maintaining or curtailing mask wearing and other measures that had been instituted in the past. The universal health benefits of washing hands and wearing masks when one feels ill—even with colds or allergies—should guide our behaviors moving forward, Roldan added, before her final appeal: “I urge you, please get vaccinated not only for yourself but for your loved ones and those around you.”
Vaccination is currently the most important tool in eradicating COVID-19, according to health experts. Anyone looking to be vaccinated can visit one of many local pharmacies offering the shots or make an appointment at FIU.
Eager to see everyone back on campus, Rosenberg reflected on what the health crisis has brought to the fore in terms of the university’s growth: “The opportunity to have learned from the difficulties that we had and get better, the opportunity for more collaboration, the opportunity for more and better communication, the opportunity to be more appreciative of your fellow human beings, the opportunity to [be] more helpful to the people who count on us, the opportunity to do the right thing.”
And finally, Rosenberg added: “The opportunity to come out to FIU for fellowship and to help us break the cycle of solitude, the opportunity to continue this path of student success that we’re obsessing about. We can do all those things now. Let’s take advantage of that opportunity and make this a better university and better university community.”