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The Gatepost Interview: President F.Javier Cevallos

By Caroline Lanni

Staff Writer

Can you describe how the academic year went with COVID-19?

It was a very difficult and different year for everyone. When COVID-19 started, I do not think any of us anticipated that it was going to be a full year before we could even think about coming back. During the summer, a lot of the faculty spent time moving their materials to a different kind of environment so that people could work. Of course, we wanted to have some student presence on campus because it is important, and the campus experience is not the same with not having any students around. ... I am sure that it was very stressful for many students. I have said this a number of times – I am extremely proud of the faculty because they were so willing to work so hard to move the learning to the different platforms. I am really proud of the students because it was not easy. I am really proud of the staff. It

was a stressful year, and I think we managed to do it very well, and I am really proud of the effort that everybody did.

What are your thoughts on the University’s COVID-19 testing strategy and response to positive cases? What could the University have done differently?

I think the testing strategy worked out very well. By having mandatory testing, we avoided significant spikes. Overall, I think the results were really encouraging for the campus and for the way that people took it very seriously. Again, I want to thank the volunteers that spent all those Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays in the Athletic Center testing and making sure that students and the population had access to testing. I do not think that we would have done anything differently. I think the way that it [testing] was coordinated and organized logistically worked very well. We have to figure out what is going to happen in the fall in terms of testing. I am sure that we are going to have some requirements of testing available. I do not know those yet – we are waiting to get guidance from the state, and we

should be getting that in the near future. I will let you know when we find out.

What were the main strategies that you and your team pursued throughout the school year in

regard to COVID-19?

At the very beginning, we had a number of groups, teams, committees – whatever you want to call them – working to get ready to reopen in the fall. Once we started classes in the fall, we had two main groups. One is the COVID-19 Response Team and the other one is the COVID-19 Continuity Team. Those two groups have been meeting weekly to really ensure that we can fulfill the protocols and all the things in place, and keep up with all the regulations in place coming from the state, the CDC, and etcetera. Those groups have been coordinating activities, so I think they deserve a lot of the credit for us being able to be open in the fall, be open in the spring, and now getting ready for commencement, graduation, and getting to the end of the semester. We are looking forward to the last couple of weeks and hoping the

testing will continue to be as good as it has been, with very few positive cases, and everybody can get vaccinated during the summer, and we can come back in the fall.

Looking back on this past year, what is something the University could have done differently in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Hindsight is always 20/20, so you could always say that we could have done more testing. We could have started to make the decision to not come back right at the beginning of the spring break instead of having to decide after the second week of spring break. ... I think that we probably could have done more testing, maybe, but again, I think our testing was reasonably done. I think we handled this as best as we could, given the information we had at the specific time. The challenge with dealing with the pandemic is that it is an evolving situation, even now. ... It will continue to evolve, and during the summer, I am sure we are going to discover new things and new mandates, so we just have to adapt and keep going. So, the short answer is that I think we did everything we could given the information we had.

What is something you would like to say to members of the FSU community who have been

impacted by COVID-19?

I would like to say, “Thank-you,” because it has been an incredible response and group effort to work together to get through COVID-19. From what I know, we have not lost anyone in our community, but we have lost members of the families of students and staff, and that is always sad when a parent, or grandparent, or a relative has been a victim of COVID-19. So, my heart goes out to all of the people who have passed away because of this disease. For the students in particular, you have lost a year and a half of your college experience and you will never get it back. It [college] is one of those wonderful years of your life that you should be enjoying. You have instead been quarantining inside, so it is a tough year. I am proud of the way that everyone handled it and so thank you! Thanks for all the work that people have done to get us through this and hopefully, everybody will get vaccinated by early fall and we go

back to a more normal sense of life on campus.

What are you hoping to accomplish at FSU before retirement?

One of the reasons that I am staying all the way until next summer is to make sure we get over the pandemic. I think that transitions are difficult enough in normal circumstances. It would be really hard to get a new president coming in next fall. I think that strategic planning is coming up and the next president will take care of that. Everything seems to be lining up in a way that says, “Either you stay five more years, or you move on now.” I think that it is time to let somebody full of energy come in and move this institution higher to a different level. Next year is going to be quite interesting during the search process that is going to start in the fall, so we will see who the candidates are, and obviously, I will do my best to collaborate and help the next president in any way I can.


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