Recent Coronvirus-related ‘Difficult Decisions’ cited by Welsh at Trustees Meeting

Ronald Hanaki 

Staff Writer 

ESU’s Council of Trustees held its final meeting of the spring semester via Zoom last Thursday.  

L. Patrick Ross, Chair of the Trustees, said, “This is the first time we have had a Zoom meeting.” 

Before the meeting officially started, Ross, thanked some of the ESU staff working during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“I would just like to thank the president, her staff, Jo [Bruno], Ken [Long], Santiago [Solis], and all of their staff for the job that they have done during this very critical time,” he said. “We have never witnessed anything like this.” 

Then ESU President Dr. Marcia Welsh delivered her report. 

President Welsh talked about the difficult decisions she and her team had to make because of the pandemic. According to Welsh, it was a difficult decision to cancel all university-sponsored trips for faculty, students and staff. Additionally, ESU’s athletic events were all canceled. 

“We started contemplating moving all courses to allow remote learning modalities. And then we had to rethink commencement which now will be a virtual celebration of our graduating seniors,” she said. “Hopefully, many of them will return later to walk across the stage. Walking across the stage is important for many of the students and the families that they serve.” 

She also said that throughout all of this, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education continued to offer retirement incentives to ESU’s APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) members. Fourteen members of ESU’s faculty took advantage of the offer and will be leaving ESU this summer. 

“I would like to thank them for all they have done for ESU and wish them well in their retirement,” she said. “More retirement incentives are expected to be announced with the goal of reducing employment complement across the state system as a cost-saving measure.” 

PEMA (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association) has been in touch to see if they can use ESU’s facilities in case of a regional need in response to COVID-19. 

“If you remember back in the Fall of 2012, we were designated as a PEMA mega-site and did serve as a shelter during Hurricane Sandy,” President Welsh said. “PEMA did determine they would take over the Koehler Fieldhouse as a field hospital to assist local hospitals should the need arise.” 

Two professors in the Department of Art and Design have been working with other 3D printers around the region to design face masks, face shields and stethoscopes. Separately, an ESU biology professor has developed a simple-to-make respirator and is in discussion with Lehigh Valley Hospital-Pocono regarding its production by faculty and staff who have volunteered to help with its production. 

Welsh herself has been working with a group of community leaders to get the word out about the need for social separation and best practices for restaurants with curb service or takeout. She and the community leaders have helped put together public service announcements regarding how to protect oneself and what to do if people think they have symptoms. 

To ensure social distancing, ESU closed its track and took down all the hoops on the basketball court and the nets on the tennis court to stop people from using ESU’s athletic facilities. 

“We recently launched a weekly briefing that is done in our ESU TV studio following appropriate CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidelines to let the Pocono region know what is happening here in our region,” Welsh said. 

The show airs every Friday morning from 10 o’clock on channel 13 on Blue Ridge Cable TV, and it is also available on Pocono Mountain Visitors Bureau’s website and can be streamed on YouTube. The program is said to have been well-received so far. 

Currently, all ESU summer classes will be taught online. President Welsh stated that the university is in a “wait-and-see” mode when it comes to the Fall semester.  

“[Contingency plans] are being discussed here at ESU but even more importantly, system-wide so we are aligned with our sister schools to determine exactly what we are going to do come fall depending on the COVID-19 situation,” she said.  

Welsh concluded her report by stating that ESU will be holding its annual Accepted Students Luncheon virtually on April 25. So far, 700 students have signed up. Normally, this is a time when ESU receives a good number of deposits. A number of faculty and staff would be participating in Q&A’s and doing different presentations. 

“So, it should be exciting and fun to watch. Let us hope for a most successful event,” Welsh said. 

Next, Ross said that the search for Dr. Welsh’s successor has begun. Trustee Tina Nixon is chairing the search committee along with Ross and Vice-Chair Marcus Lingenfelter. 

“We have confirmation from Greenwood Asher [an executive search firm] that they will help us through this selection process,” Nixon said. 

The contract with the executive search firm is in the process of being finalized. 

Then Provost Joanne Bruno announced that the Strategic Initiatives Committee recommended 12 former ESU professors to be considered for Emeritus appointments. They include the following: Margaret Benson from early childhood education, Teri Burcroff from special education, Diane Cavanagh from special education, Susan Harlan from early childhood education, Maureen McLaughlin from reading, Elizabeth Gibbons from theatre, Laurie Pierangeli from nursing, Suzanne Prestoy from nursing, Sheila Handy from business, Susan Elaine Rogers from HRTM (Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management), Bradford Seid from HRTM and Carey Snyder from ESU Athletics. 

The recommendations were approved by the Trustees. 

Ken Long, vice president of administration and finance and future interim president of ESU, presented the finance committee report.   

According to Long, in almost all areas, local fees would be increased by 3 percent. The only exception was residential life. Since University Ridge is one of ESU’s most sought-after residential units, residential life would see a 4.9 percent increase in fees. 

Long expressed his desire to keep the cost of local fees down, but it would be challenging. 

“It will be a struggle,” he said. “Some of the areas such as residential life, we will have to make some additional cuts in order to keep at those numbers.” 

Long noted that some of these fees including transportation and parking fees have been suspended going into the summer session, so students would be only paying tuition-related costs during the summer. However, a determination for the fall has yet to be made. 

Toward the end of the meeting, the trustees decided to keep the same slate of officers for the next academic year in order to ensure continuity in the face of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 virus outbreak. 

Since this was Welsh’s last meeting with her current title, Ross recognized her for her contributions to the university. 

“She has done an outstanding job under many obstacles and difficult times,” Ross said. “She, along with her staff, have made very hard decisions to put this university where we are along with Ken and Jo and now Santiago.” 

“You are going to be missed very much. She has reached out to the community and been a very active part in the community, partaking and serving on many boards. Thank you, Marcia. We really appreciate everything you’ve done,” Ross said. 

Welsh expressed her gratitude. 

“ESU has become my life for eight years and in many ways my family,” she said. “I will miss you all terribly. But I will stay in touch, and I will be back once in a while.” 

Welsh also took the time to thank William Cheetham, interim VP for enrollment management, for all of his work in rebuilding the admissions team. 

Ross then closed the meeting. 

“All of you be safe and hope everything goes well,” Ross said. 

The next Trustees meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24. 

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