President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.

Season 3 - Episode 333

August 21, 2020

President Livingstone
President Livingstone

Months of preparations for an in-person fall semester have led to the arrival of Baylor students on campus for the start of classes Monday, August 24. In this Baylor Connections, President Linda Livingstone goes deep inside the process of welcoming students back to campus safely, preparing meaningful modes of class instruction both virtually and in-person, readying Baylor’s physical spaces for students and more.

Transcript

Derek Smith:

Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week, we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research and student life. I'm Derek Smith. And today we are visiting with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone. As we head into next week, Baylor is welcoming students back to campus for the start of a new semester, a new normal, as we've used that phrase a lot in a lot of hard work out of President Livingstone's office and so many across Baylor coming together to make this a possibility to make it happen and to do so as safely as possible. And President Livingstone, amidst all the busyness, we really appreciate your time. Thanks so much for joining us today on Baylor Connections.

President Livingstone:

I am happy to be with you and glad to have this opportunity to talk with everyone as we get started with the fall semester.

Derek Smith:

Well, we appreciate it. And I know so much work has gone into this so much planning, amidst uncertainty, to create a safe environment for students. And obviously the campus has been pretty empty these last few months. What are the emotions like for you as you welcome students back to campus?

President Livingstone:

Well, there's a lot of excitement. I was out over the weekend as our freshmen started to come back. And then of course, the rest of our students are coming back, coming back this week. And it's been so exciting to see them. They're thrilled to be here. Certainly a little anxious and nervous, but I know I am thrilled to have them. It's really emotional after they've been away for so long and the campus has been so quiet. So I just can't say how thankful we are to have the students back and how excited we are for the fall semester.

Derek Smith:

Well, you talk about the incoming students. In addition to returning students, last week you were joined with thousands of incoming freshmen in a virtual visit where they opened their traditions boxes, collectively. Obviously, they were a group starting their college experience very differently from the rest. So what was it like to share that moment with them?

President Livingstone:

Well, it was really special. Of course, we always love giving the line jerseys out. It's such an important part of line camp. And so we had to come up with a different way to do it this year. And I thought that the virtual ceremony was just unbelievably special and quite moving. And the neat thing about it was that people's family and friends all around the country and around the world, got to join them in opening those traditions boxes and putting on their line jerseys for the first time. And that's typically not an experience that others get to be a part of. So there certainly are some benefits to some of these virtual experiences that allow a much larger swath of the Baylor family to be a part of, and that was certainly the case with the traditions boxes.

Derek Smith:

We're visiting with President Livingstone on Baylor Connections. And President Livingstone, obviously I know the decision to have an in-person fall semester, a lot of work, a lot of considerations. How did you come to the decision? How did Baylor come to the decision to hold an in-person fall semester? And how's Baylor been able to maintain that position?

President Livingstone:

We went completely virtual in mid-March, and I would say that even as we were going through that completely virtual experience in the spring and then into the summer, we very early on concluded that what we wanted to do this fall was come back in person, or at least as much in person as we possibly could. And so that was really from the very beginning as we began planning for fall, really, even back in probably May, we were committed to doing everything we could to try to bring everybody back in the fall and to make it through the fall semester. So we knew we always had a fallback option, but that the most challenging planning was going to be being back face-to-face. So that should be where we put our time and energy. And then if we needed to adapt and move more virtually, we could do that much more easily. And so really all of our effort and planning have been about coming back and having students here in person. And I think we have monitored data and what's going on both locally and across state and around the nation and feel like we have a really good plan to do that and do it as safely as possible.

Derek Smith:

What is the process of working with local health officials, government officials, and others who can speak into providing as healthy of an environment as possible in preparing for this fall?

President Livingstone:

We've had a wonderful working relationship with the city, the county, the health professionals in this region, both within the county and city, as well as the hospitals and other medical providers. And it really takes that collaboration and that partnership across all of those areas to be able to plan appropriately for something that we're dealing with, that none of us had ever dealt with before. And I can't thank the city and the county folks enough, the local health professionals for really being a part of this with us, giving us great insight and advice and working with us to put the plans in place that we have for this fall.

Derek Smith:

You're no stranger to working with a variety of organizations on campus and to big efforts that take everyone pitching in, in some way. But what does this look like with all of the various organizations on campus, having to make adjustments and having a role to play? What stood out to you about the way everyone had to come together and pull in the same direction on this?

President Livingstone:

Well, I always knew we were a special place and that people at Baylor step up and do what they have to do to support our students and our faculty and to get things done. But honestly, this has been really an amazing illustration of what it means to be a part of the Baylor family and to see our faculty and staff rally together, work across departments and divisional lines to see our alumni come together to support our students. This has been just an unbelievable, comprehensive team effort and taken great collaboration, particularly of our faculty and staff across division that I've just never seen before. And they've done it graciously, they've been flexible, they've adapted, they've done things they've never done before. And they've changed what they were going to do two or three times along the way. And I just couldn't be prouder of them, and we're thankful for the faculty and staff and friends and family of the university that we have, that have gotten us to this point.

Derek Smith:

Well, you mentioned faculty, President Livingstone. We think about the classes for the fall. And I know people are hearing terms like hybrid and other words that haven't been used as much in past years. So I want to ask you, as many universities across the country have gone completely online for the fall, what does it look like at Baylor in terms of online versus in person versus hybrid?

President Livingstone:

Well, we've worked really hard with our faculty and through the provost office to create a portfolio of class delivery options that we think are going to best meet the needs of our students and what they're wanting, as well as create a safe and healthy environment for our students. So we have some fully online classes. They'll probably be about somewhere in the 30, probably about 30% of our classes will be fully online. Much of that is by choice. We really let students know if they wanted online classes or if they wanted a fully online schedule to let us know so we could adapt and make sure we had the right balance of online classes. We have another set of classes that are what we call hybrid. That means you will meet in class part of the time and you will meet remotely part of the time. And that gives us the ability to do more social distancing in the classroom. And then we have a set of classes that are fully face-to-face and our traditional delivery mode. But again, those face-to-face classes will be delivered in a socially distanced way. So our density in our classrooms has been reduced significantly so that we have the spacing that's needed between students in the classroom. So our faculty have been through lots of trainings during the spring and in the summer to make sure that they were really aware of all the technology and resources we have to ensure that those online and hybrid classes are of the quality and rigor that we expect at Baylor. And they've just done a great job, adapting and learning. And I feel really good about the experience that our students are going to have this fall, regardless of the mode of delivery of their class.

Derek Smith:

You referenced it earlier, President Livingstone, when talking about the freshmen in opening their traditions boxes and their families getting to see. There are some benefits to a virtual, whether it's a virtual experiences that we're learning as we go, in some cases. But other universities, institutions, and including some here at Baylor, have offered classes virtually, some of the graduate education options. And I'm curious, are you finding in any areas that there are some benefits to the virtual or hybrid models, as it relates to students?

President Livingstone:

Well, there certainly are. I mean, obviously, online classes give students in some ways more flexibility with how they designed their schedule, particularly students that have to work. As they get through school, it does oftentimes give them more flexibility to do that. The other aspect of online that's very helpful, and we see technology being used even in face-to-face classes for this purpose, is typically much of what you do online is continuously accessible. So if a student needs to go back and watch a video again, or they need to go back and look at a lecture that a faculty member gave, that is all out there. And it does give students a chance to re-review the material as many times as they need to, to help them gain access to it. And then particularly this fall, when we know that we'll have some students that are sick with the COVID-19 virus, or might have to be in isolation or quarantine because they are sick or they've been in close contact, or they might need to go help with family situation, those remote delivery options will allow them to continue to keep up with their classes, even if they can't physically be in class. And that's more difficult if all you're doing is a traditional face-to-face environment. And then the other thing I would say, Derek, with regard to this, one of the things that we know about online education is that the more engaged the faculty member is with the class and with their students, the more personal you make that online learning experience, the better it is, which we also know is the same with in person face-to-face classes, and something that our Baylor faculty are especially well suited for. So we really believe that that personal contact that we take so seriously in face-to-face classes will translate well and really increase the richness of the online experience that our students are going to be having in some cases this fall.

Derek Smith:

This is Baylor Connections. We are visiting with Baylor University President, Dr. Linda Livingstone, as we head into the fall semester this coming Monday. And President Livingstone, I'm curious, as we think about starting the fall semester, obviously being flexible, being able to pivot's been important for everybody, what types of information will guide Baylor in the fall and continuing in person instructions or pivoting if conditions were to worsen?

President Livingstone:

Well, our goal is to make it through the fall semester, so up to Thanksgiving, on campus. But we do recognize that there certainly could be things that happen that would cause us to need to pull back some from that. So we have developed a set of metrics that we'll be monitoring daily that will help us understand where and when we need to adjust. So that dashboard, as we say, will have information about the county, McLennan County, to help us know how many cases there are here, the availability of hospital facilities in the county. It will have what they call the RT score, which tells you what the transmission rate of the virus is. You want that to be below one, which we are below that right now in McLennan County. So we're real pleased with that. But then it will also have data about our campus, the number of positive cases on our campus, the availability of isolation and quarantine rooms for students who get sick and need to be isolated from their classmates. It will have data even by residence hall, for positive cases. We'll be doing contact tracing and it will help us understand where we have maybe hotspots that we need to manage. And so we will have this comprehensive set of data that we're monitoring for the county and for the campus. And then we will adapt, really, on a daily basis as we learn more. And that might mean that we do more testing in a certain area on campus because we see a hotspot. It might mean that we pull back from activities. So let's say we see a lot of cases affiliated with intramurals. Well that might mean that we pull back on intramurals or change the kinds of intramurals we're doing to keep that from being a problem for us. Or if we see a hot spot in a residence hall, we will make some adjustments to deal with that hotspot to try to keep it from spreading across campus. So our goal is to stay on top of the data on a daily basis, so we can adapt and make decisions to manage and control the virus so that we hopefully won't ever have to get to the point of going fully online. But we do recognize that that could be a possibility if we have a widespread set of cases, we run out of isolation space, there's our RT score is above one and we see things spreading rapidly. But we're certainly putting lots of measures in place, including ongoing testing and contact tracing, and certainly ensuring that everyone follows all the safety protocols that we know are important from about public health perspective to keep our students here on campus, up until Thanksgiving.

Derek Smith:

That's great, very comprehensive, as we visit with President Livingstone. I know part of that too, is even just physical changes on campus the way that students will find the campus waiting for them as many of them have arrived back now. So I'm curious if you would, could you give us a little bit of a mental tour of campus or changes that students will find on campus as they start this fall 2020 semester?

President Livingstone:

Well, it will look different on campus. Probably one of the most obvious things students will see is all the tents all over our campus. There's, I think, 16 of them. All but a couple of them are air conditioned and heated. They have wifi. So these are really fully functioning facilities on our campus, adds tremendous space for us. They will be used for classrooms so that we have more classroom space we can social distance in. They're being used for expanded dining facilities. So again, we have more social distance space for dining. They'll be used for student activities. They'll be used for just study space for students during the day. So that expands our capacity dramatically. Students will see, in our classrooms, that they will have to social distance. So they won't be sitting right next to their neighbors in class. They'll notice that we have pathways in and out of buildings and up and down hallways. We have social distancing waiting on the elevators. We have signage all over campus, reminding you to wear your mask, to social distance, to wash your hands, to check your symptoms everyday. So there'll be many, many reminders everywhere you go that life isn't exactly normal, but reminding us of the things we need to do to be safe and healthy together on campus this year.

Derek Smith:

We've heard the phrase family first. It's something you mentioned in one of your emails to the Baylor family. What does family first mean at Baylor this fall?

President Livingstone:

We really want to emphasize that this is a community activity. Keeping our campus safe and healthy means that, as the Baylor family, we have to take care of each other. That's what families do. They have each other's backs. They take care of each other. They look out for the health and wellbeing of their family members. And so it's not just about me staying healthy, keeping myself healthy as an individual. It is what can I do to keep my family safe, to keep my family healthy this semester. And so we really want folks to think about the Baylor family and what they contribute to their health and wellbeing this fall, and not just for themselves. And that's where these behaviors are so important, checking your symptoms in the morning, wearing masks and so on, that are so critical. And if we will all do all of those things, whether we're on campus or off campus, we have a lot of confidence that we can have a really good semester together.

Derek Smith:

Well, you're even helping students with some of those things and faculty as well. And staff, I haven't seen it yet, but I know we're getting Baylor face masks, hand sanitizer, some Baylor branded goodies to help out. So I got to think that's a lot of fun for people like it is for me. And hopefully that encourages that as well, a little reminder for students in the morning. You don't put it on them to go to the local grocery or drug store to get it all.

President Livingstone:

That's right. We did, I think, put together 20, 25,000 bags, these clear bags with face masks, hand sanitizers, you said a water bottle because we don't want people using water fountains and drinking after each other. There's a checklist of the symptoms that you need to pay attention to. And there's a thermometer in there as well, so that everybody has their own personal thermometer to check their temperature every morning. And if you just pay attention to what's in that packet and do what's in there, you're going to be in really good shape for this semester.

Derek Smith:

That's nice, it's almost like a reward. We all took the COVID-19 test, we took them individually as a family. Not the most pleasant test to take, although very important. So nice to know there's a little goodie bag almost like when you're going to the doctor as a young person, a little goodie bag waiting on you for doing that.

President Livingstone:

That's exactly right. We should have put suckers in there. I remember getting suckers when I went to the doctor and had to get a shot. Yeah. I did mine, a nose swab, and got my test back. It was negative, so I'm happy about that. But I decided that was a pretty small sacrifice to make, to help keep the campus safe. And we appreciate everybody jumping in and taking those tests as they have done.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. As we visit with President Livingstone here on Baylor Connections. And President Livingstone, obviously, you're thinking about student needs in a variety of ways. And Baylor offers so many great services to students from health services related to physical ailments, illness, mental health. What should families in students know about the way these Baylor health organizations and resources are working together and partnering to address a variety of student health needs?

President Livingstone:

Yeah. We recently consolidated all of our health and wellness activities Dr. Jim Marsh come towards the end of last year. And that has been unbelievably valuable to us in this because, as we think about, it's a wellness focus, it's our health center focus, it's our mental health focus. And all of those resources are available to our students. We have provided lots of ways to be in touch, whether it's calling, physically going to, or emailing our health center. Our counseling center is available and we are doing telehealth, both for physical health as well as for mental health. So we're really trying to make sure that our students are deeply aware of the resources that are there to support them, whether they have physical health issues or mental health issues. Because we know this will be a challenging semester and that they need people around them that can help them get through this. The other thing we're reminding folks, students and parents, we encourage students to sign HIPAA and FERPA releases. FERPA protects your academic records, HIPAA protects your medical records. And students have to intentionally sign a form to give their parents access to those records. And so in a year where we may have more health issues or challenges being face-to-face in class, we want students and parents to partner on ensuring they're doing well academically and doing well from a health perspective. So citing those HIPAA and FERPA releases so parents have access to that information is certainly a good idea this year.

Derek Smith:

That's great. I'd be looking for that. And President Livingstone, as we have in the final few minutes of the program, just a couple more questions for you. Obviously, there's so many different areas to talk about in this, but I'm curious, we saw the news that the big 12 is moving towards playing football. Baylor football has released its schedule and announced a 25% capacity at McLane Stadium for games. Now, obviously that's going to change things at events that are associated with football, whether it's homecoming, family weekend in different forms. But what would you like fans to know about Baylor game days and about just what went into trying to make that happen and be as safe as possible for everyone?

President Livingstone:

Well, we're really excited that we're moving forward with our fall sports season and in particularly football. This is going to be wonderful for our community. We certainly are going to have to do it differently, as you said, with the smaller capacity of the stadium, as well as many of the events that we typically wrap around games, whether that's homecoming or family weekend will be done differently and we'll have certainly more virtual elements to that. But we're also continuing to look at how do we provide those critical parts of those traditions that people are so used to, but do it in ways that respect social distancing, respect the situation that we're in. But we have great confidence that the Baylor family is going to be unbelievably supportive of those traditions and of our Baylor athletic teams, even if the way they do that is going to be different than it has been in the past. And so we're excited about the fall and the return of sports and know it's going to be an exciting year. We're thrilled about that and look forward to the Baylor family supporting all those activities.

Derek Smith:

I Imagine everyone's really ready to cheer on the Bears, maybe more than ever right now, as you say, looking forward to that. And finally, President Livingstone, I'll wrap up with a question that's important on a number of levels. And as Baylor, as a Christian research university, has its own distinct role to play in higher education in normal times, and certainly during a pandemic as well. So within that vein, what role can Baylor play in the midst of something like this, whether it relates to research, whether it works public good or anything related to that?

President Livingstone:

Yeah. I think we have a unique opportunity as a Christian research university. When our foundation is based in Christ and when we're really seeking to live out our Christian witness in everything that we do, there's nothing more important than that than at a time like this when there's really a lot of angst and darkness in the world. And we have faculty doing interesting research to help find treatments for COVID. We have a biology professor working on oxygenation of blood. That's really an interesting opportunity. We have another professor that they can test for the virus in sewage water, and that's been helpful to communities. We're using that on campus to test for the virus in our residence halls. And then we have folks, our Baylor collaborative on hunger and poverty, that has provided meals for 250,000 children across the United States. It's like 15 million meals that they've provided. And so there's just so many ways that we can live out our mission of really seeking to help solve some of the difficult problems in the world. And that flows out of our Christian commitment and our Christian mission. And so it's something we didn't necessarily expect, but I think it is a way we can serve differently than we might have anticipated that we would.

Derek Smith:

Absolutely. Well look forward to having some of those professors on the programs in the weeks and months ahead to tell some of those stories. And as we wind down President Livingstone, I wanted to thank you for coming onto the program and for all of your hard work. I know there's been a lot of people supporting you in prayer and we'll continue to as we start this semester, and you and so many colleagues at Baylor, a lot of hard work over these last few months. So thank you for that and we look forward to seeing the fruits of that as students start this fall semester here at Baylor. So thank you.

President Livingstone:

Thanks so much, Derek. It's a pleasure being with you.

Derek Smith:

Well, it's great to have you on the program. President Linda Livingstone, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith. A reminder you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections. Thanks for joining us, here on Baylor Connections.