Presidential Perspective - October 15, 2020
Baylor Students, Faculty, Staff and Parents:
Earlier this week we announced to students that Baylor would be partnering with the City of Waco and McLennan County for COVID-19 surge testing over the next two weeks. This announcement has generated many questions from students and parents alike, so I reached out to two Baylor faculty experts who serve on the University’s COVID-19 Health Management Team to explain the importance of this surge testing effort:
“The only way we will continue to defeat COVID-19 at Baylor is if we work together to search every dark corner for the virus. We are all tired of testing, but important things are usually not easy. I made the same case to our Space Warriors when I served as the Surgeon General of the U.S. Space Force. Surge testing, besides being directly recommended by Dr. Deborah Birx (White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator), is important because it gives us a more comprehensive view of how much COVID-19 we have in our Baylor population, and where the virus is hiding. Getting this current, comprehensive picture will enhance our efforts to finish the Fall semester in-person and strong, and lays the foundation for a successful, in-person Spring.” – Walter M. “Sparky” Matthews, MD, MS, MPH, FAsMA, who is board certified in public health and general preventive medicine and was responsible for COVID-19 operations for U.S. Space Force during his military service. He has sat on councils that included other Surgeons General, as well as the CDC, FDA, DHHS and DHS.
“This surge testing will help protect the health and well-being of our students, staff, faculty and the broader community by enabling us to operate in the safest possible manner. A key factor in our success to date has been the multifaceted approach to testing. This includes tests prior to attending campus, ongoing surveillance, targeted tests (focused on high-risk activities and groups) and testing close contacts and those who are symptomatic. The federally funded surge testing provides a great opportunity to further understand the situation on campus by helping us rapidly identify additional COVID-19 cases, conduct contact tracing and quarantine close contacts. This testing, along with the public health safety measures in place, are vital factors for managing and controlling infectious disease outbreaks such as COVID-19.” – Benjamin J. Ryan, PhD, MPH, who has experience responding to disease outbreaks, supporting local and international COVID-19 initiatives, disaster management and undertaking academic pursuits related to public health across the Indo-Pacific, Europe and North America. Dr. Ryan has also worked for government agencies including the U.S. Department of Defense.
And I do have some good testing-related news – all 5,000 of our COVID-19 tests as part of the surge initiative will be saliva-based. Students selected for surge testing should check their email on Monday for specific instructions and incentives.
Some news to share this week …
- Today we are celebrating the launch of the Hord Scholarship Challenge, an exciting initiative that will impact future students in a profound way. Baylor alumni and long-time supporters Dan and Jenni Hord of Midland have committed $30 million to the University and are encouraging the Baylor Family to give as they can to endow new merit-based scholarship funds or support existing funds. These scholarships will bridge the gap between merit- and need-based financial aid that is often a barrier to deserving students becoming a part of the University. We are grateful to Dan, who serves on our Board of Regents, and Jenni for their commitment to the success of our students and continued support of Baylor.
- As the 2020 presidential election approaches amid growing polarization, the Baylor in Washington program will co-sponsor a Zoom forum next Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 6 p.m. to explore how Christians can practice good citizenship inside and outside their religious communities. Sponsors of the event, “Render Unto Caesar: How Should Faith Inform Our Politics?,” include the Faith Angle Forum, a project of the Ethics and Public Policy Center; Baylor’s Institute for Faith and Learning; and Washington College’s Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture. One of Baylor’s ongoing priorities is the importance of civil discourse and listening in campus, political and faith settings. Panelists include Baylor graduates Melissa Rogers, J.D., a church/state lawyer and former special assistant to President Barack Obama; and Kelly Shackelford, Esq., J.D., president and CEO of First Liberty Institute, the largest legal firm in the nation dedicated to protecting religious freedom. Moderator will be Malcolm Foley, special advisor to the president for equity and campus engagement and director of Black Church Studies at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. To register for the event, visit “Render Unto Caesar.”
- Early voting in Texas has begun, and your voice matters. For many students, this is your first time to vote. Don’t pass up this opportunity to participate in this important civic duty. Throughout the early voting period, Baylor will offer transportation to the downtown Waco polling site each Tuesday until Oct. 27. Students can sign up here by Monday at 9 a.m. the day before they plan to vote to reserve a spot. For students who are unable to vote on Tuesdays, a free shuttle from Waco Transit is available Monday through Saturday. We encourage all students to vote and to continue following guidelines for social distancing and mask-wearing as you make your voice heard.
- For our faculty: As we continue preparations for the spring semester, a reminder for you to take advantage of Baylor’s partnership with iDesign, which provides excellent in-depth course resources within the University’s learning management system. While iDesign focuses on online and hybrid modalities, the firm’s assistance will also help to create more robust face-to-face courses and enhance your overall craft of teaching. A special thanks to the Academy for Teaching and Learning and Library and Academic Technology Services for all of their incredible work since last March.
- In August I shared an update on the health of Judge Lady, one of our beloved American black bears. She previously underwent a successful operation to remove a benign mass that had developed around her spinal column and has received weekly checkups from her expert medical team with the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. After a period of care focusing on rehabbing her back strength and mobility, Lady has been successfully cleared to transition to an additional private living area at the Bill and Eva Williams Bear Habitat. Our staff and student caregivers constantly offer love, adoration and first-class care for both Lady and her sister Joy.
- I know the entire Baylor Family shares our disappointment in being unable to cheer on our football team this week against Oklahoma State, with the teams postponing their Saturday game to Dec. 12. Despite this setback, we have several other top-tier teams of wonderful student-athletes competing this fall that you should be following as well. The women’s soccer team is coming off a 2-0 win last Friday over No. 5 Kansas and will look for another win over a ranked opponent this Friday at No. 7 West Virginia. Our women’s volleyball squad is No. 2 in the country and swept a pair of weekend matches against Oklahoma to extend our home win streak to 22 matches. The First Gent and I are particularly big fans of the volunteer assistant coach! If you have not seen these fantastic programs in action, make a point of getting out to a match this fall – following all social distancing and COVID-19 protocols, of course. Check out baylorbears.com for the full upcoming athletics calendar.
- While this certainly is not the Homecoming any of us envisioned, our team in Student Activities has been working alongside Baylor Chamber of Commerce to provide several opportunities for the campus community to connect either virtually or in-person. I encourage you to explore the full Homecoming schedule of activities and determine how you can celebrate in this unique year. And I hope to see our students (masked and socially distanced) on Friday beginning at 6 p.m. for the Pep Rally Celebration – we’ll have FREE food from some of Waco’s most popular food trucks.
That’s a lot of information to share this week! Please keep yourself healthy and well during this critical stage of the semester. 42 days left until the Thanksgiving Break!
Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D.