On Wednesday, November 4, Student Senate President Arty Puntus sat down with Finlandia University president Philip Johnson for the annual Student Senate Forum. The forum is aimed at answering the most concerning questions from students, which this year focused on remote learning, breaks and other COVID-19 considerations such as graduation and offerings in the cafeteria.
Puntus started the event by asking about changes to the Spring 2021 Academic Calendar, which moved the start of the semester back one week and eliminated Spring Break. Johnson said it was a difficult decision, but one that was made in an effort to reduce travel and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Every time the student body travels outside of the area and then comes back, that whole experience simply raises the chance for infection,” said Johnson.
Johnson also acknowledged that an entire semester without a single break is overwhelming and that students can expect multiple wellness days throughout the spring term, similar to the one they experience on Nov. 4.
Puntus then moved the conversation toward the cafeteria and said that students were wondering if there was a way to bring back more variety. The sandwich and salad bar in Finlandia Cafe were removed this past semester as a recommendation to stop the spread of COVID-19. Johnson said he spoke with the Director of Dining Services, Tim Nakkula, and Dean of Students, Erin Barnett, and will work to provide more variety come spring semester.
“The first thing Tim wanted me to say was that make sure our students understand that he is so desiring for things to return as they were and, in the meantime, we have to be as creative as we can be,” said Johnson. “What I would say to students is stay tuned, look for announcements over the holiday break, and we will be able to bring variety back to a certain degree.”
Continuing to look ahead to the spring semester, Puntus asked about plans for graduation and for the spring sports season. Johnson said the plan for right now is to have baccalaureate, commencement and the honors banquet in person, but that is subject to change depending on the status of COVID-19. For the spring athletics teams, Johnson acknowledged that the teams had already sacrificed a season in the spring of 2020 and that they are doing everything they can to make sure they can play. He said a final decision is expected to be made in early February.
“We want to make it as early as necessary so that we can plan and prepare appropriately, but we also want to make it as late as possible so we have all of the information possible that we can have,” said Johnson. “It’s a balance isn’t it? Between opportunity and activity and maintaining safety. I think we can do both. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, so let’s figure out how we can provide all of the opportunity possible and at the same time be safe. I think we can do that, and I think we have been doing that.”
Puntus addressed another major concern for students regarding going online after Thanksgiving break (the decision to move online beginning Nov. 16 had not yet been made at the time of the forum). Johnson said the same reason applied to Thanksgiving break as it did to Spring Break: it’s all about reducing travel to and from places.
“Online or remote learning is such a challenge, so we’re doing everything we can to build that support and make sure that when students leave they have all the support in place,” said Johnson, referencing the student survey that Barnett had put out in the weeks prior asking how the university could help students transition.
Puntus then turned to Johnson and asked what he personally would like to see changed at the university, outside of COVID-19. Johnson said that he would love to have a vaccine tomorrow, but since that isn’t available, he wants Finlandia to be affordable for everyone who wants to enroll.
“We know, especially because of COVID, that there are many financial strains that families are living with, so it’s making college affordability even more challenging,” said Johnson. Johnson said it was something they were working toward, referring specifically to the numerous scholarship opportunities such as the free full tuition initiative Rise Together.
Finally, Puntus ended the conversation by asking Johnson how he felt about the current situation with COVID-19. Johnson admitted that pandemic fatigue creeps in every once in a while, but that he draws energy from students who remain positive.
“Even when I find that the better side of me gets a little beaten down because of the pandemic, I just find a lot of inspiration from students and how you are handling it,” said Johnson. “I think we can do small well and I think during the pandemic some of the values and benefits tend to surface.”
To learn more about Finlandia’s COVID-19 Response Plan visit finlandia.edu/safeopen.
To learn more about Finlandia’s commitment to providing affordable private higher education, please visit finlandia.edu/scholarships.Tags: Arty Puntus, covid-19, Fall 2020, President Johnson, Student Senate, Student Senate Forum