Madison College and the Environmental and Social Pandemics:  Dealing with The Pandemics

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Dr. Jack Daniels III, president of Madison College, has had his hands full as the college has undergone rapid change during 2020


By Jonathan Gramling

As we talk on the phone about the events of the past year, it is readily apparent that Dr. Jack Daniels III, president of Madison College, has the utmost appreciation for the college’s faculty and staff who have worked together to weather the events of the past year and keep Madison College moving forward. It clearly is a “we” thing for Daniels. And there has been much to deal with.

“I sent out a notice on March 15 that effective on March 16th that we would close and we would be closed for two weeks,” Daniels recalled. “We were getting ready to go on Spring Break. And then we had that additional week on top of that. So we figured we would do a lot of work during that period of time, which did happen. The faculty really worked during that time to get their courses organized so that they could teach in an online format. And then after we got the stay-at-home order, at that point in time, we were really closed to the public. But at the same time, we maintained the offering of our classes through an online format. And then later on, late April or the first of May, we started to have some of our in-person classes that were necessary for folks being able to graduate or get the training that they needed to get their certificates. It took a lot of folks involved to get us to the point that we were really again back to serving students. My hat is off to our faculty and staff for this work.”

Madison College had the benefit of already having a foundation of online classes to build on. But it still took a lot of work to establish communication lines with students and convert college life to an online format. With Daniels paying close attention to the experts and the science, Madison College stayed pretty much online.

“In the summer, we offered our classes primarily in a remote environment,” Daniels said. “Again some of the classes were in an in-person framework due to their nature. Starting in the fall, we had 70 percent of our classes truly remote. Twenty-five percent of our classes were hybrid. And about five percent were in-person. When I say in-person, there are specifics because in areas like health, it was necessary to do in-person to provide the clinical submersive and the whole health occupations training. In our protective services, our police and fire academy, that had to be face-to-face or in-person. And we knew we had to have some of our trades in person. If you think about welding, it’s very hard to simulate welding on a computer screen. Those are the things that we really had to do in-person.”

The other “pandemic” that hit society last summer was the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the Black Lives Matter movement. Madison College needed to respond to the demands and truths of the movement and do some introspection as well.

“Every school as an E&I plan,” Daniels said. “Every division has an E&I plan. And those plans are aligned with the college’s Equity & Inclusion Plan. And it’s just not a plan. It has benchmarks. It has assessments and evaluations. What are the actions that are being taken? And who is accountable? Those are very excellent plans that now need to be implemented. We also have done a lot of work in terms of our faculty in terms of their curriculum development, but also pushing multiculturalism across our curriculum. That has been an outstanding segue into what we need to be doing looking at and understanding cultures. What has been the effect on many of the disciplines by various cultures? We need to bring that into focus. I selected and appointed an academic diversity officer. That ADO is responsible for working with the seven schools that we have from an academic standpoint. And then that will all funnel up to the colleges aligning with the plan. We’ve seen a lot of that happening. I’ve also worked with the board. It has gone through racial equity training. They’ve had three so far and I think they have two more scheduled before the end of June. They’re on board with what we are doing. And as you remember, in July of last year, they passed a resolution denouncing racism. And so, I’m just trying to paint the picture this is not just based on one person. This is the institution, every aspect of the institution moving that way to foster equity and inclusion and to support social action. It’s at the core of the institution.”

Daniels emphasized that the college has taken the future of the college into its own hands, that it is making decisions based on the science and the vision and mission of the college.

“Our summer schedule is already out,” Daniels said. “And right now, we’re in the process of modifying some of that schedule to include an increase in our in-person classes primarily through our hybrids because the hybrid is a combination of online and in-person. We’re advised to do some increase in that area. We’re encouraged because we see that there is an increase in summer enrollment as compared to last year at this time. That’s an encouraging sign for us. We’re doing the same thing for our fall schedule right now. That fall schedule probably will be out within two weeks. Again we’re looking at a substantial increase of the hybrids. That means we will increase those hybrid offerings and lower the fully remote offerings. And there are going to be those areas where we are going to have to have full in-person. They are working through all of that right now.”

The “new normal” has also included bringing back some of Madison College’s sporting teams.

“Our sports teams were basically grounded as of last summer,” Daniels said. “But we have made some adjustments. For example, in our men’s baseball and women’s softball, they have returned to competition with practicing in terms of our women’s volleyball and our basketball teams, they are just practicing. There is no competitions. Our golf team will be competitive again. But they also have to follow all of the regulations that we are setting up. For example with our baseball teams, we’re doing screenings twice a week. We’re also encouraging them, when possible and when it does occur, to not stand away from the vaccinations when they become eligible for them. We do that testing twice per week on our athletes. In terms of what we have been working through in terms of screening, the teams are told about good hygiene habits and washing their hands and being masked. We continue to push that out there. We think that is necessary regardless of the vaccinations. We still have to maintain healthy habits. And it’s not just protecting you. It’s protecting others from you.”

And as parts of society begin to open up, some of them rapidly, Daniels reemphasized that it is science that will lead Madison College out of the pandemic and not politics.

“We’re not out of this pandemic,” Daniels emphasized. “And it’s not going away. We’ll find ways to mitigate it and control it. But it’s not going away. It’s here to stay. And I think it is important to understand that. And it is also, as we look into the future, COVID-19. I’m quite sure in the future, there is going to be some other pandemic that will hit. How we are preparing right now is going to be an indicator of how we are going to be prepared for the future. We don’t know the full effects of all of the variants currently. You don’t know what may occur. But you always are trying to understand where we are, understand the folks who are involved, and the folks who have been infected. And listen to the CDC. Listen to the good people who have scientific knowledge. And I think Dr. Fauci is one of them. We’ve got to be able to look at it from a scientific standpoint and not from a feeling standpoint, ‘We want to do this,’ and I understand all of that. But we’ve got to be very directive and careful about how to reopen to this ‘new normalcy.’”

Madison College is a community college. And Daniels even envisions a time when the community will once again be able to use its facilities for events and workshops.

“My hope is that at some point in time during the next fiscal year, we will be able to return to having groups use our South campus and Truax because they are for the community,” Daniels said. “And everything that we can do to support the community, we will do it within the parameters that we have.”

The “new normal” will come back in due time. Good things happen for those who wait.