USI president discusses their move to all online classes in two weeks at the start of the pandemic, and his decision not to furlough any staff.
Transcription of conversation between WNIN's Steve Burger and USI President Dr. Ron Rochon:
0:00:00 Burger: What do you remember of those very early days of the pandemic?
00:00:05 Dr. Rochon: You know, it's interesting because the most earliest aspect of the pandemic I think like many Americans I have this kind of disbelief in my head about you know, is this really going to impact us, you know as a community, you know, is this something that we can navigate, you know without too much worry without too much concern. And I'll tell you quickly is it became a reality that this was in fact something we needed to be very serious about and very strategic about with regard to preparing ourselves. And so I recall, you know shortly after that meeting with my executive team in a meeting with university leadership and they're getting a sense of how we could actually pivot. Our students were on spring break when we're making these decisions and I extended spring break by an entire week to help us actually prepare for the return of our student body. And we went, you know from being a small component of online education for the semester to be totally online within a matter of two weeks. I'll just never forget how quickly we did it, how effectively we did it. But also, you know how people had to come together and depend upon one another across the entire university campus.
00:01:19 Burger: What did it feel like when you realized, when you had that realization that your professional role as the president of the President of the University of Southern Indiana was going to intersect so closely with that historic event like this pandemic?
00:01:38 Dr. Rochon: I'll tell you know it's humbling. It really is humbling to think about it. I felt a weight that I've never felt before, you know, that's not just being responsible for our student body, you know, just trying to make sure that they are safe but thinking about the the citizens of this campus community that come to work each and every day to fulfill our mission and I'm thinking about their family members thinking about their loved ones, think about those who are living with with elderly members of their families. I tell you, you know my mind and my thinking went from a very narrow space of just, you know, trying to manage the daily operations of a campus proper to going off campus in many directions with regard to every decision we make, every decision I endorse will have an impact on peoples' lives. I'll tell you right now also the collision with those thoughts was the reality that these decisions will also impact the bottom line of keeping people employed. Keeping people in an independent, autonomous space where they could have dignity to pay their rent, mortgage, feed their families. So I'll tell you there were all kinds of collisions that still occur in my mind and in my heart in my life even today as pertains to all of these kinds of measures in there and how they affect people, the dignity of people ,the well-being of people, the future to people. This pandemic has really pushed us in ways I never imagined possible, to be very frank with you.
00:03:12 Burger: I am reminded in your answer that the University of Southern Indiana did choose to keep everyone on staff a lot longer than maybe some other organizations did. Can you go into that a little deeper into why you did that?
00:03:29 Dr. Rochon: You know growing up, I remember seeing people in Chicago where I grew up unemployed. So good people, smart people, reliable people, people with great dignity and great work ethic, you know lose their jobs and I've seen that impact, what it does to family and I would tell you right now. I made it very clear to my team and I talked with the Board of Trustees that it was important to me that we do all that we could all that we possibly could to cut costs, to reduce our DNA footprint if you will, to make sure that we were able to secure an opportunity for every individual that wanted to do a job working toward our mission, you know, stay employed. You know, I couldn't make any kind of you know, magic promise or whatever to see this was going to happen. But it was our objective sir, collectively to make that happen and I'm not talking about just Ronald Rochon. I'm talking about us as a community. Now I ask people to please understand that every dollar we spend needs to be examined critically, every hire we make from this point forward needs to be examined very critically, like never before. I'm asking everyone to please examine how we're spending, every corner that we could cut do it and do it, and do it with an understanding that we are interdependent and that we are speaking and relying and focusing on the well being of not just my department, but our departments across the entire university campus. And I'll tell you right now I've been, I've been blessed in so many ways, but being at the University of Southern Indiana and watching my colleagues- and I say that I use that term very sincerely- my colleagues across the entire university campus regardless of rank, regardless of tenure, regardless of time spent on campus in that particular role, people rose to the occasion over and over. and over again. I just marvel and watching how individuals continue to do more with less, continue to speak more boldly about the other. We had a mantra that I felt was very important. And that was one bucket that we were all placed in this one bucket. The faculty the staff, the student body, the administration, all in this one bucket. We call it USI. We would not be in segregated lanes or segregated portals or even buckets, we were going to be one bucket working together to support this institution and to support each other.
00:06:06 Burger: Are there any positive changes that you think will stick after the pandemic?
00:06:11 Dr. Rochon: You know, one thing about university life that many of us know that have done this for a long time, but there's always this cliche that universities move slower than an iceberg. In many ways that may be true because of our structure and trying to include voice across the university campus, but we we learned a big lesson. I think across the nation that the academy can move quickly and effectively. I think that we're going to see some major changes in delivery, pedagogical practices and delivery of instruction will be definitely affected moving forward. I think we're going to see some more creative ways and we can engage students more readily in a space that they're comfortable with, places at USI, when we have students working many, many hours need more flexibility with regard to securing their classes and their credits so they can matriculate successfully. And I'm excited. It about you know, seeing ways in which we can kind of get back together and include student voice and understanding what it is that they're going to need moving forward as well.
00:07:06 Burger: Final thoughts?
00:07:07 Dr. Rochon: The final thought for me is that we are in a amazing community. I'm speaking a lot about USI, but I need to talk about this community. Vanderburgh and Warrick County in particular and even beyond that so many people have come together to support this institution and support our students and I am thankful for where we are, who we are and how we engage and execute something that is important as helping each other.