There was only one person behind the podium Wednesday night in Dodge A/B: Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper.
She answered question after question with enthusiasm and addressed students’ concerns regarding the rapidly escalating coronavirus situation. But Cooper has been hard at work long before Wednesday night.
“Every day I am scouring all of our aspiration schools, our local schools and determining where we are in relation to them. I’m proud to say that we’re ahead of a lot of our competitors,” she said.
While many other nearby colleges and universities have elected to make classes online, Cooper believes it is important to look at the entirety of the situation before automatically responding in the same way. Springfield doesn’t have the endowments that MIT and Harvard has. The institution also doesn’t know what life is like on other campuses and the unique factors they have to take into consideration.
But, she does know what life is like at Springfield College. Although the idea of a forum in which large numbers of students all gathered in one area may have appeared counterintuitive to some, Cooper feels it was the most authentic way to communicate information with the campus.
“I was anticipating it all day, would people be angry? And I felt like the group was really friendly and they were interested. So, I’m willing to take the heat of people saying you shouldn’t have had a student forum,” she said. “Now, we won’t have any more of those because students will be online. But I think it’s important for this culture to be up in front of people for good or bad.
“I feel like people were informed and now they’ll… get ready and they’ll pack up their stuff and they know what they’re doing and that they’ll be home for two weeks. So, I felt really good.”
Though, there are a lot of moving pieces still to be determined regarding the campus’s actions in the coming weeks. While she’s confident about the way students were informed, she knows the situation still comes with numerous consequences – some of which she can control, and some she cannot.
“The reality of it is everybody’s going to have some sort of cost. We’re going to have to do some kind of reimbursement. I don’t know what that looks like. It may be for undergraduates in credit, and it may be for our seniors a credit to their bill or a check,” Cooper said.
“This thing is going to cost many of us money and it shouldn’t come out of pockets. But, I’m going to do my best to make sure that students graduate and I really want to see if I can get students back here.”
That’s the aspect that’s weighing on Cooper’s heart the most: the seniors. With the extra week added to the tail end of spring break, that means there’s just five weeks left for the Class of 2020.
“Living on campus, it’s going to be lonely for me for two weeks. And so to imagine having the rest of spring semester without students here, when you live on campus, it’s such a significant difference,” she said.
“But senior social, all the senior activities, everything in terms of the culmination, and I’m going to do everything to make sure we have commencement. Whatever conditions we need to put in place to (have it), and if we have to limit family members but we still have it, (we will).
“The notion of not walking across the stage makes me sick to my stomach.”
While there’s still a lot in the air, Cooper made it clear she is prioritizing the health and safety of the campus community, while also considering what’s best for the students in all aspects: academically, athletically and socially. She didn’t shy away from a single question.
It’s clear that she, like the rest of the Springfield College community, cares deeply and will continue to tackle the coronavirus situation head on.
Photo courtesy of Evan Wheaton