This article was crafted from an interview with President Pearigen on July 15, 2020. Therefore, it does not reflect the information from the virtual town hall meetings conducted on July 27-30.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Millsaps College shifted to remote learning for the remainder of the 2020 spring semester. Through several emails, virtual meetings, and conferences, students, faculty, and staff acclimated to digital communication as the College adjusted to the ever-changing world around it. Since the college’s shut down in March, many updates have surfaced regarding the recent spikes in COVID-19 and the college’s decision to reopen this fall.
With the Fall semester rapidly approaching, Millsaps College President Rob Pearigen shares his life in the pandemic, honest thoughts on the college’s reopening, and provides new updates pertaining to the upcoming semester as well.
Reflecting on his life these past few months, President Pearigen admits that the pandemic has generated a more intense schedule in his professional life; however, he also recognizes the intensity as a necessary measure to ensure a continued and meaningful experience for students, faculty, and staff.
“I feel like I’ve never been busier and I feel like my work has never been more intense nor more important for that matter. I mean, this is a highly unusual time. A very challenging time. But, we’ve got an institution here and students that want to be learning and faculty that want to be teaching and staff members that want to be serving. And I feel very committed to doing everything that we can to continue that educational experience for our students. There’s never a more important time to do that,” said President Pearigen.
While the pandemic has increased his work schedule, President Pearigen acknowledges rewarding changes in his personal life such as having more dinners with his wife, Phoebe, and taking their dog, Spencer, an undeclared but acknowledged campus mascot, for hour long walks around campus each evening as they visit campus sites and water plants together.
At the mention of being on campus as the upcoming fall semester approaches, President Pearigen provided his thoughts on the College’s decision for students, faculty, and staff to return to campus and addresses concerns of a potential COVID-19 breakout.
“Today, I believe this is the right decision. And it’s not a decision I’m making on my own. There are a lot of folks that are involved in these decisions”, said President Pearigen.
Acknowledging that Millsaps’s small student body count, classroom, and campus size is advantageous in reopening this fall, President Pearigen reveals that the College has been in partnership with University of Mississippi Medical Center since mid-May of this year. Not only has UMMC provided guidance, support, and consultations, but top epidemiologists have visited the Millsaps campus, where they have examined residence halls, classrooms, and laboratories.
“When it comes to things like testing, and what will be required for classrooms in terms of distancing and what will it mean in terms of masks and movement among classrooms, we are turning to them for advice, the epidemiologists, which include Millsaps alums,
who are in leadership positions there at UMMC. So, we’re not doing this on our own. We’re really looking for outside support”, President Pearigen said.
With the previous email pertaining to Fall 2020’s structure sent in June, President Pearigen shared new updates with more specificity regarding ideas on how the College intends to socially distance in classrooms.
“There may be a point where we decide to do students taking classes in the classroom every other day during the week or maybe having classrooms in which half of the students are there on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the other half are there Tuesday, Thursday. Lots of different options there being explored. No final decision yet”.
One of those options being explored is remote instruction from residence halls for students who want to stay on-campus and still attend classes, which the College will provide more information about arrangements like this in the near future.
Beyond social distancing measures pertaining to classroom structure, President Pearigen also revealed that the College is currently in the process of implementing quarantine and isolation measures such as setting aside residence hall, Goodman, as a quarantine location for students who may have been exposed to the virus.
“We’re also looking at setting aside one residence hall for quarantine and isolation. We’ll be doing that at Goodman, and I know it comes as a disappointment to some students who were planning to live at Goodman. I hope they will understand why we need to do this, but we’re currently in the process of moving students out of Goodman, so we can have that facility clean and made ready for isolation and quarantining. There are 62 beds in Goodman, so that’s about 10% of our student body”, President Pearigen explains.
Even with guidance from the UMMC partnership, quarantine measures, and safety protocols, students, faculty, and staff may still be hesitant to return to campus in fear of not only exposing themselves to the virus but to relatives or friends who may be more at risk for COVID-19, which makes the option of remote instruction for the entire semester—instead of post-Thanksgiving—possibly more reassuring.
Understanding the hesitancy towards face-to-face instruction and interaction, President Pearigen addresses this concern.
“Our feeling is that we don’t want to send everybody home because for some students it’s harder to be back home continuing their education or doing their work, and they would rather be here, but we’ve got international students, for example, that can’t go home. So, we didn’t wanna shut the campus down completely, and we wanted to make it available for students whose educational experience would be better back here, but they would be able to do that as their peers are doing through a remote process. The fact that it saves transportation for our students. If they wanna go home and stay home, they can. Those who want to leave can, so, we’re trying to make it work for any number of scenarios”.
Knowing that choosing to remain off-campus will result in a reduced financial aid package while acknowledging that COVID-19 has negatively affected the world’s economy, President Pearigen shares the College’s plans to continue to financially support students who choose to remain off-campus as well as on-campus—in addition to the recent CARES act fund—this upcoming semester.
“We provide a great deal of financial aid for both need and merit. And we are working with students and their families even now to look at their circumstances and conditions. Last week, Whitney Emrich, our vice president of the Finance Administration. We had a 45-minute-long call with representatives or legislative assistants in Senator Wicker’s office, and Congress will be considering another round of financial support, and we advocated for additional funding that will go to students directly to aid with their circumstances. They were very curious about how students were using the funds through the first Cares act, so we sent an email of the kinds of expenses students were incurring”.
Based on the applications from students, the most needed expense was related to technology.
While continuing to advocate for additional funding, President Pearigen also encourages students, faculty, and staff to visit the Millsaps website, where there is a link to different procedures, policies, and guidelines that have been issued the past few months at http://www.millsaps.edu/coronavirus/index.php to receive the most current information. Additionally, he invites students to ask questions that are not already included in the information section.
To stay further aware of information regarding COVID-19, President Pearigen shared an app called “Apple COVID-19” which deals with statistics and cases by different states. This app was developed in partnership with Apple and the CDC, and it is available on the Apple Store.
With the upcoming semester approaching quickly, President Pearigen understands the increasing anxiety; however, he also reiterates that accountability of students, faculty, and staff must be present in order to make the college’s re-opening safe and viable.
“We’ve got to be able to count on our students, faculty, and staff abiding by our guidelines and you know that includes face masks and maintaining social distancing. We have to do everything possible to remind people that this will be a requirement. It’s not gonna be an option. It’s gonna be a requirement in classrooms and settings where you can’t maintain that distancing,” President Pearigen said…
Additionally, President Pearigen commented that additional and extensive information will be directly provided to students soon and will be made available on the college website.
As campus structure and information is ever-changing, here is a list of resources to aid in securing the necessary information to prepare for the upcoming semester:
For more support or questions regarding health and safety for Fall 2020, please contact Dr. Jennifer Lewton Yates at firstname.lastname@example.org or Demi Brown, Dean of Student affairs, at email@example.com. Please be mindful that the wait time for an email response may be delayed longer due to preparations for the upcoming semester.
For more information about financial aid, please contact Isabelle Higbee, Director of Financial Aid at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Financial Aid Office can also be contacted at finacialaidmillsaps.edu or at 601-974-1220. Please be mindful that the wait time for an email response or call may be delayed longer due to preparations for the upcoming semester.
For more apps pertaining to COVID-19, please download “COVID-19!” or “CDC”, which are apps that are both available on the Apple and Google Play Store.