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In annual address, SIUE chancellor thanks campus for crisis response

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Chancellor Randy Pembrook presented his annual State of the University Address via Zoom on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

Acknowledging 2020’s unpredictability, Pembrook updated the campus community on numerous successes and praised faculty, staff and students’ resiliency amid the two difficult ongoing issues of the coronavirus pandemic and systemic racism.

“Thank you to our faculty for pivoting on teaching modalities, adopting new pedagogies and continuing to enhance teaching through summer workshops,” Pembrook said. “Thank you to our staff for creating a diverse and respectful environment, a nurturing place for our students, and for the new traditions created to help students feel welcome this fall. Thank you to our students who have persevered amid myriad adjustments that would have been impossible to imagine 12 months ago.”

“I couldn’t have continued, SIUE couldn’t have continued, without the many amazing people at this university,” he added. “That is the true story of 2020 — our creativity, our resilience, our commitment to overcome difficult circumstances.”

Related to COVID-19, Pembrook acknowledged multiple teams that met regularly to determine the best path forward, including the COVID Core team, Academic Continuity Task Force, Pandemic Planning team and Health Service.

“COVID has touched all of our lives in some way since March,” he noted. “Thank you for your courage exhibited in so many ways.”

Pembrook noted that the university is considering a variety of testing and screening options for implementation in spring 2021. Additionally, he confirmed that the spring 2021 teaching schedule will include online, hybrid and on-ground modalities in proportions similar to those presented in fall 2020. Summer 2021 will be offered almost entirely online.

“The biggest question mark at the moment is the teaching modality distribution for classes in fall 2021,” Pembrook said. “We are preparing three scenarios: 1) a pre-COVID ‘normal’ model, 2) the fall 2020 COVID intense model and 3) a model that lands somewhere in between.”

Another major challenge that was painfully exposed in 2020 is systemic racism in society and higher education. Pembrook detailed the Anti-Racism Task Force that launched in June. The ARTF includes four subcommittees focused on communication, student access and success, curriculum, and the recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty and staff.

Implementation of the numerous recommendations brought forth by the subcommittees is intended to begin by December. The University has identified anti-racism as the Quality Initiative theme for its Higher Learning Commission accreditation project.

Pembrook underscored that a search for a vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion has launched, under the leadership of committee chair Cornell Thomas, SIU School of Dental Medicine diversity, equity and inclusion officer and assistant dean for Admissions and Student Services.

Pembrook went on to review the SIUE Strategic Planning Process, and underscored the addition of Karen Banks as a telehealth counselor for faculty and staff within SIUE Counseling Services.

Other updates during the State of the University Address included the announcement of an anticipated start date of Nov. 25 for Intercollegiate Athletics’ basketball season. The remainder of fall sports are postponed until spring 2021. Additionally, Pembrook noted that planning is ongoing for the new Health Sciences Building. He mentioned plans for a town hall on budgeting to be held in November.

Pembrook concluded with a “we will continue” mentality, urging the campus community to maintain a fierce determination to move forward, together.

“We have had to make changes and adjustments in the last seven months that we couldn’t have imagined a year ago. But, we continue,” he said. “We have been asked to practice safe behaviors at all times, in all places, and to make personal sacrifices until we are fatigued. But, we continue.

“We look forward to happier times, more normal times, better times. We will continue and we will thrive. Thank you to each and every one of you for your service to SIUE.”

PHOTO: Randy Pembrook, file.

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