LCC working to make campus safe for fall

Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 3:21 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Lansing Community College’s new president said it’s been a dream of his to lead the college, but he never expected it to happen in the middle of a global pandemic.

“I don’t think anybody thought we’d be doing what we’re doing in terms of a college in a global pandemic,” Steve Robinson said. It changes everything we do.”

Robinson took over as President Monday after a nationwide search. He was president at Owens Community College in Ohio since 2018.

While balancing students learning needs with their plans for the resuming in-person classes in the fall, Robinson said safety is a top priority.

“Because we don’t have residence life and dormitories, some of the response to COVID-19 is less challenging than a large university that has residence life and big auxiliary gatherings,” Robinson said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have to take the other part of it very seriously.”

When fall classes start in August, students will have three options for classes: a traditional online course that does not have set meeting times or days; a real-time online plan where courses have faculty instruction via WebEx on certain days and times; or a hybrid course where have an online component and an on-campus, hands-on component.

Those in occupational and technical programs like as HVAC, welding, electrical, construction and many health care areas may have to appear in person.

“You have to do a health check before you come to campus,” Robinson said. “You should wear a mask.”

Robinson added the school will extend safety measures into the classrooms.

“They’ll be safe,” Robinson said. “It’s important that we observe all the social distancing. We’ve invested a lot of time in thinking through how we physically distance, how we sanitize classrooms, making sure we’re all spread a part.”

The school has also thought through what happens if a faculty member or student contracts the virus.

“Just about every foreseeable outcome is thought through in this business resumption plan that we have,” Robinson said. “It’s really important that as we re-amp up face-to-face interactions that we do that in a safe way. So the team here at LCC has already thought through what happens if we have a positive case, how do we do communication and contract tracing.”

The college has also amped up its technology for students without reliable access to a computer or wifi.

“We know that some groups of students don’t complete or aren’t retained at the same rate as other students and quite frankly, that’s just not acceptable,” Robinson said. “We’ve been working on that here at LCC and with this (Resolution Addressing Racial Injustice through Equity and Inclusion). We’re really going to ramp up our efforts to make sure that everyone is included in that mission of high quality affordable education.”

Robinson advised students to be consistent and on top of checking their emails and communicating with professors through the changes.

He added that the new system for the fall semester should be improved from the spring semester. With more universities moving to online-only classes, Robinson expects enrollment at LCC to jump in some areas.

“Across our country there are a lot of students that are giving community colleges a second look, primarily because their classes are online at a university,” said Robinson.

Because of the financial impact of COVID-19, LCC already had to furlough staff, cut fall athletics and defund the college’s radio and TV stations.

“We’ve already had to make some tough financial decisions in the current budget and we may need to amend our budget in the first quarter of the fiscal year,” Robinson said. “What you see is because the coronavirus has driven down sales tax revenues, you see a downward pressure in state appropriates. That’s true in Michigan, it’s true across the country so the community colleges that thrive are doing strategic financial planning into the future and that’s been happening at LCC.”

Robinson said LCC will push through the adversity of the coronavirus.

“LCC is here for the long haul,” he said. “We’ve been here for a long time and when we pull out of the coronavirus pandemic, greater Lansing is really going to need us to help rebuild the economy, rebuild the workforce, and have affordable pathways to great jobs and university transfer. We’re going to be more important to this community than we every have been.”.

In June, the LCC Board of Trustees adopted the Resolution Addressing Racial Injustice through Equity and Inclusion. Robinson said that will be a focus for him during his time as president. His administration has to get back to the board with a plan about how they will address issues within six months.

“LCC was founded in 1957 in the run up to the Civil Rights movement, actually in the middle of the Civil Rights movement, and we are the open front door to higher education,” Robinson said.

Robinson’s LCC roots began as an intern teaching a writing class while a student at Michigan State University. His Michigan community college experience includes 15 years as a community college faculty member, 10 years as president of a faculty union, and six years as a board member of the Michigan Education Association in Lansing.

He served as a member of the graduate faculty in English at the University of Michigan-Flint. He also served as a chair and faculty advisor in the Doctorate in Community College Leadership program at Ferris State University, as well as the Doctoral Program in Higher Education at the University of Toledo.

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