Like many universities across the nation, life at Faulkner University was upended due to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. In its wake, Faulkner quickly adapted to the new challenges and is prepared to finish out 2020 stronger than ever.
President Mike Williams sat down to answer a few questions about the challenges facing the University, changes that have been implemented on campus to ensure a healthy learning environment and his outlook on a hope-filled future for our students, faculty and Faulkner family.
Describe the challenges of this year so far in regards to COVID-19 –
“January began as a seemingly benign school year. We had a lot of things happening with the launch and growth of the college of health sciences. So many things were happening with student activities and then March 13 hit and we had to make a high-stakes decision to send our students home and continue the school year online. Things changed on a dime and suddenly what was a robust and optimistic new year came to a screeching halt. A lot of anxiety and apprehension ensued, but there were some positive takeaways from it all. I found great strength in our leaders at Faulkner who really bonded together through this experience. Yes, we had moments of fear and anxiousness, but everyone kept very positive and optimistic through it all. That sense of positivity has been refreshing as we worked to come up with solutions for this fall semester.”
What would you like to say in regards to race?
“This coming year we cannot afford not to walk our students through the conversation of race. We just can’t walk away from that. I’m excited to have confirmed award-winning journalist Jerry Mitchell to come speak to our students this fall. Mitchell wrote the book, “Race Against Time” after watching, “Mississippi Burning,”a movie about the murder of three civil rights workers. In his book, Mitchell chronicles his journey in bringing the murders of those slayings to justice and now, thanks to him, they are incarcerated. I’d also like to have him participate in a community wide event as well. It will be great for Montgomery and a way for us to participate in this important conversation.”
How have these challenges affected Faulkner and the Faulkner community?
“One of the recurring themes I’ve witnessed is through difficult situations, lie the seeds of opportunity. One of the things I saw this community do to come together in a powerful way for our current students was a campaign by our faculty and staff to take the names of our students and call them, text them and send them Facebook messages to personally express concern and see if they needed any help. It was a way to show them that we love them and care about them. I also saw our admissions team step up and personally reach out to our prospective students and take a proactive approach of keeping in touch, checking up on them, and keeping them excited through these unprecedented experiences.”
How have these challenges affected you personally in your position as president?
“I didn’t sleep from March 13 until April 13, mainly because of the uncertainty. But even in the midst of that, I drew strength from the Lord and from the people I am surrounded with. We maintained that perspective that the Lord shepherds our souls and he shepherds this university and so there’s that peace with what we’ve done and how God has blessed us through this situation. So I don’t have a message of despair, and although I did feel the enormous weight of the challenges, I told our senior team to not think of this situation as the ‘new normal’ but rather a season. I referred to scripture when the apostle Paul spoke to the early Christians who were literally being burned at the stake and persecuted, he used the phrase ‘a season of persecution.’ So we’ve tried to view this time of COVID as yes, a challenge, but it’s a season of time and there will be a day when this will pass. When you keep that eternal perspective it helps us deal with the more short-term challenges and has certainty helped me from a stress standpoint.”
What is your message to students and families as students return to campus this fall?
“In many ways this fall is a Faulkner 2.0. The message remains the same that we are a community of faith, a community of learners and we come together to do this collaboratively. As we come back together, we are even more sensitive to this idea that we live in community and to live in community means to take care of the needs of others. The pause that this year has given us, from what I have already heard from students is that they can’t wait to come back to campus. They appreciated their Faulkner experience before, but when they come back this fall they will return with an even greater appreciation for what it means to be in community and what that looks like. In spite of our challenges and those things that we wish were better, Faulkner is a very healthy environment, where people are treated with dignity, where there is kindness and goodness and love that pervades this institution and that can’t be taken for granted.”
What is your outlook for Faulkner University as we finish out this year?
“We’re taking a very balanced approach to our response to the pandemic to create a safety zone for our students and our more vulnerable population, which is our faculty members. That sensitivity is going to be on the rise as we are going to be living in a mask required environment and our policies are going to be responsive to that situation. It comes down to personal responsibility. We’re not making mandates, but we do want our community taking responsibility for our health and for the health of the people around us that we come in contact with.
Our COVID-19 Response Task Force has met all summer to make sure we have the best information available for the decisions we make to open up the fall semester and we’re looking at participating in a mobile app designed by UAB that will inspire healthy behaviors and act as a communication tool to navigate through this semester. We are determined to tease out the best of this school year. Our academics will look different as well as our fall schedule. We plan to start on August 17 and finish up finals by November 25. We’ll have distancing within the classroom, reduced class sizes and will implement hybrid classes for those larger general education classes which will allow half the class to have in person instruction on certain days while the other half will participate in online instruction and then they’ll switch. We are also investing in ‘lecture capture’ technology that will record each lecture to not only benefit the student who may be sick and unable to attend class in person, but this has a long shelf life behind COVID-19 to improve our quality of education. Now those who have games or are on an education trip and can’t be in the class, they will still get that instruction or those who simply want to review something they missed while they were in the class, they can.”
What is a positive message of hope you’d like to share to inspire everyone as we look forward?
“Obviously the venture of our college of health sciences has been a point of big excitement. It’s something we have been talking about for multiple years and although we’ve added our first program and have been adding faculty and directors, it’s been invisible to the broader community. Now with our first graduating class for speech and language, physician assistant beginning this fall with physical therapy having their site visit and occupation therapy right after, the purchase of a new building to house them all is the culmination of all those years of work and we begin to see it coming to fruition. That will be extremely exciting to witness along with the undergraduate programs that will grow because of it.”