Central Methodist Back This Fall With COVID-19 Testing

With counsel from a team of medical professionals from across the country, Central Methodist University President Roger Drake has announced the campus will be open this fall for resident students.

But it will be far from business as usual.

Drake said CMU’s board of trustees has authorized COVID-19 testing for all students, faculty, and staff, along with sweeping new safety protocols. He said a special advisory team of alumni and trustees, which includes research scientists, physicians, biologists, attorneys, and community health professionals, has assisted CMU’s senior leadership with a plan for returning to in-person classes that will include:

• Coronavirus testing
• Frequent sanitizing
• Social distancing in classrooms and dining halls
• A campus care facility for those who are symptomatic or test positive
• Increased nursing resources

“Families have historically chosen Central because of the safe and caring spirit here,” Drake said. “We feel these steps are necessary to protect our students and our community and assure them that we are doing everything we can.”

Drake said this higher-level response could be a model for other colleges, and “will likely provide a plan for moving into the future – beyond the pandemic.”

While higher education deals with the pandemic and many institutions face declining enrollment, Central’s metrics for the fall are strong. The institution has a record number of applications for fall enrollment.

One of the big reasons CMU continues to prosper is its faculty. They continue to receive high engagement rankings on the annual NSSE survey, Drake said, because “they care. They go above and beyond. Their caring spirit is a part of the culture here.”

Dr. Tiger Gordon, professor of chemistry, said that caring spirit, combined with being an iPad campus that deployed its Digital U culture three years ago, allowed faculty to continue to communicate and engage in content and discussion when students returned home after spring break.

Gordon said faculty creatively redesigned courses, expectations, and assessment methods.

“I saw lots of laughter and tears between faculty and students during that time of transition,” Gordon said. “I couldn’t be more proud of my faculty colleagues, our students, staff, and the administration in how things have gone.”

Central’s plan for returning to in-seat classes this fall has many contingencies, Drake said, and Digital U, the university’s iPad and digital learning initiative, will play a critical role.

“Our faculty members and administrative leadership are looking at ways to implement temporary online learning, for instance, if someone cannot attend classes after a positive test,” Drake said.

The university has a facility designated for those who test positive for the virus, and CMU plans to add nursing resources. Drake pledged that nursing resources and on-duty hours would be adjusted to meet demand.

CMU’s plant operations crew will be focused on frequent sanitizing across campus, heavily using electrostatic sanitizing that uses bleach tablets and other products to disinfect on a widescale basis.

Dining arrangements will include significant changes, as CMU’s food service provider, Fresh Ideas, adds additional food stations and grab-and-go options across campus to allow for proper distancing. Additional hand washing stations and touchless dispensers are also being discussed.

While athletics has always been a big part of the Central culture, no decision has been made on the return of fall athletics. The NAIA has stated that it is developing plans for a fall season, and that a final decision would be made by July 1. Drake, who serves on the NAIA Council of Presidents, remains optimistic about fall sports.

Natasha Wilson, vice president for student life and athletics, said she and campus partners are planning and covering “all possible scenarios” for the return of competition in the fall, with health and safety being the institution’s top priority. She said those plans also include various scenarios for the safety of alumni/fans who support CMU.

“I’m sure our plan for athletics and everything else will adapt and change as we go through the spring and summer,” Drake said. “No matter what adaptations occur, students and families should always know we will remain focused on the health, safety, and education of our community.”

Drake said that CMU “did the right thing” by its students and issued room and board refunds and credits when they returned home earlier this spring. In addition to room and board refunds, he said the institution this month has been disbursing CARES Act grant funding directly to nearly 350 students who have applied.

“Students are always first at Central,” he said. “Always.”

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