Interview with President Peter Eden about the Fall 2020 in-person semester
As students reported back to Landmark for the first time since March, it was hard to know exactly what to expect. Dr. Eden and his Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) had laid the groundwork for what was to be a bold and lofty accomplishment: the successful resumption of synchronous, in-person learning amidst an ongoing pandemic that was only getting worse. Over the course of the semester, just four cases of COVID-19 were identified, and thanks to new protocols, no community spread occurred. Voices Staff Writer Jaser Crespo-Camacho conducted a post-mortem interview with Dr. Eden just days after the in-person semester concluded.
Jaser Crespo-Camacho: What went right?
Peter Eden: This Fall, I would say that overall, things (not just classes) were not perfect, but they were better than expected for compliance and experiences and outcomes.
Q: What are you disappointed about?
A: I was disappointed that we had to change rules and restrictions for students because the state regulations changed several times.
Q: The state versus Landmark?
A: Overall, some of the regulations may not have been an ideal fit for a small college like Landmark, versus, say, a large non-education industrial business. But we had to follow the state regulations, even if they were imperfect.
Q: What was your first concern?
A: My first concern was that perhaps a lage percentage of the expected students (enrollment) would be too afraid to come to a college campus, including Landmark College.
Q: Worst case plans?
A: We saw just less than 10% enrollment reduction, but some of these students chose full-time online courses so that helped. Our worst case scenario was that if, say, ¼ of our total students chose not to attend college here; that would have been really difficult for our budget and business model.
Q: What did you foresee and how did that compare to what happened?
A: We didn’t know, I remember in the summertime telling people in August, “don’t plan for us to have no cases, that's crazy.” So we planned for what happens if we did have cases. We didn’t know if we would have an outbreak of 20 cases. We had very few sets of cases at different times but we didn’t have an outbreak and we planned for everything. Overall college campuses in general did well.
Q: Who’s to blame if someone is infected at landmark?
A: Usually, it’s no one's fault here. We can do contact tracing and try and figure it out. There's no way we can prevent human behavior and we can’t stop people from doing what they want. If we had a rugby team and we allowed them to play together with risky activity and they got infected then we would be to blame.
Q: What about legal ramifications?
A: There have been a lot of articles written on the risk to colleges, and I'm not a lawyer, but more colleges are opening back up so unless we are really negligent I don’t think that will happen. We do our best to keep people safe but we can’t guarantee it.
Q: So who’s on your team and how did you get the plans together?
A: The critical emergency response team, we already had that because we had to plan for emergencies and we worked on it with them. We added two other people from health services from the CIRT (CRITICAL INCIDENT RESPONSE TEAM). This became the one team that manged everything that semester in terms of understanding guidelines and we worked on that together. That’s one of many teams but that was the main one focused on the pandemic.
Q: So when will we know if we are in person for the Spring?
A: Spring semester is going as planned and we’ll quarantine those who come in. We plan to start our classes on Feb 8th. If we need students to quarantine for longer they’ll arrive in Jan. I think people realize college can be safe and we’re one of the safest. So a lot more applicants are coming in. More applications for Spring (and next Fall) are arriving now compared to the past several years.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: I am really proud that the students knew they had to go to college even though the situation with COVID was lousy, and they stuck with Landmark.
Q: Would you like to add something for the record?
A: I'm grateful the students and families trusted the college this fall and succeeded even with the restrictions. I hope they continue to have confidence in us and that the students continue to succeed in their lives.