On Thursday, April 8, Student Senate President Arty Puntus sat down with Finlandia University president Philip Johnson for the spring Student Senate Forum. The forum is aimed at answering the most concerning questions from students, which this semester focused on the Hirvonen College of Health Sciences, commencement and fall 2021 plans.
Puntus: A lot of nursing and PTA students spend several hours in the new Hirvonen College of Health Sciences building. Is it possible to get a microwave in there so they can heat up their food?
Johnson: Yes! We’re very excited that the Hirvonen College of Health Sciences is up and running and, to be honest, Arty, we’ve focused on the instructional spaces to date, but over the summer we’ll be tending to some of these other pieces to make sure it is ready for students in the fall. In common spaces we plan on having new vending machines and microwaves. Know that will be phased in and taken care of over the summer.
Puntus: How do we plan to reopen Finlandia for the next year?
Johnson: That’s a big question, and I want to say as much as I can and not say more than I ought. What I know is that this is my posture. My posture is one of hopeful vigilance. I am incredibly hopeful right now that we’ll be able to deliver the Finlandia experience that our students have come to love and deserve this fall and, at the same time, I know we’ll be following the science. Today, as we sit here together I certainly cannot tell you what the fall will look like, but as you and I were talking earlier, I’m making a personal commitment that all new and returning students receive weekly updates over the summer on the decision making process so that everyone knows where we are at any given week. Whether we like it or not the situation is fluid and still changing, and I want our students to feel informed on our thinking and decision making because it is going to evolve over the summer. I’m hopeful Arty, and I will always be responsible and be vigilant.
Puntus: What are the plans for this year’s graduation?
Johnson: Even as we sit right now, I know that Dr. de Yampert is in conversation with graduating seniors and those who are representing the graduating class to make sure we are listening to what is going to give them the most meaningful experience while we also tend to issues of the pandemic. Right now, we haven’t landed that plane entirely and, I know we’ll keep listening and that decision is one that will be made in conversation with graduating students. I don’t know that it’s the most helpful answer, but it is the most honest. I’m thankful for the graduating students for taking ownership of the biggest day of their lives up to this point in their life. And, for many of our students, this is the first college graduation in their family, and we want to recognize that in every possible way and we’re going to keep listening.
Puntus: Vaccines are coming to Finlandia tomorrow. How do you think the vaccination is going to affect next year? Will there be less restrictions and more face-to-face?
Johnson: I know that, as I talk to other college presidents, all of us are still making a decision and that decision probably won’t be final for some time. So we have to see how the trends move and where we’re at later on as we go through the spring and into the summer.
What I want to say to our students is get vaccinated. That’s step one. Let’s be a community of vaccinated faculty, staff and students. That is the greatest assurance we can give ourselves and one another to be a safe learning community and I’m just so tickled and delighted that our nursing students are doing it. I’m looking forward to my second vaccine in a few weeks and I know large amounts of our community have already received their first dose. The question of are we going to mandate and require it, I can’t answer that today but it’s a question that we will be continuing to talk about through the summer.
Puntus: What can we do to make sure the Hirvonen building is still connected to the campus community?
Johnson: One of the opportunities is that it’s a community space. We have a historic gymnasium for intramurals and co-curricular activities and an auditorium to get into shape that can support new programming for us. We can explore opportunities in the preforming arts again and potentially to have a drama club. Certainly from the community’s perspective, I’m being inundated with requests to use that space. It’s the largest auditorium north of the canal. Almost 800 seats, and it’s got all kinds of character and we want to make sure we use that for our own programming, new programming, and the gymnasium, and that all of our faculty students and staff can mingle in some of those more public spaces in the building.
I want to go back to that question about food in the Hirvonen building. [Dean of Students] Erin [Barnett] has sent out a recent survey on what kind of options can we be introducing to students to make sure they have convenient and healthy food options across campus. What is it that we can be doing this summer to make sure those options are available this coming year? Those extra meal plans are in the works and also access. For example, we want to get back to 5th and Elm, who are on main campus and we want to make sure we can bring them back and locate them where they are and extend those services or similar services. We’re looking at swipe systems now that students can use at Kangas Cafe or other local restaurants so we’re going to have some new things for the fall. I think the returning students especially will appreciate the new changes.
Puntus: With all the restrictions, we as nursing students are not allowed to travel beyond the U.P., and if we do have to do that we have to be quarantined for two days. Can this be avoided somehow, or if there’s an emergency? And if they do have to be quarantined, ensure students aren’t academically penalized for it.
Johnson: I do know that a lot of those restrictions are governed by the clinical sites. Clinical sites have their own sets of protocols that may be more restrictive than the university. I don’t have the details. I just encourage health science students to reach out to program directors and faculty to make sure students understand what the expectations are. The worst thing is when you and I are surprised by a policy or practice we weren’t aware of. We feel such a loss of power and all of us are feeling exhausted. I’m tired of wearing a mask and always having to check myself in social contexts. All of that stuff starts to accumulate and we just feel fatigued.
I just want to make sure all of our students know how proud we are of the Finlandia students who have led by example. Our numbers have demonstrated that we are able to be at or near zero cases and I know we wouldn’t have those kinds of results if it weren’t for our students who are taking responsibility for their health and the health of others. I know there’s a collective conviction that our students have demonstrated significant grit and perseverance. This has been such a challenging year, Arty, and I think about our graduating class. They hold a historic spot right now. No one else will be able to mark their graduation in the same way and we’re just proud of everybody.
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, Fall 2021, Hirvonen College of Health Sciences, President Johnson, Spring 2021, Student Senate, Student Senate Forum, vaccines