Goucher President, Administration move to return all students to campus

Article Written & Photo by: Elizabeth Bobo ’23

As we have eclipsed the one-year mark of being sent home due to the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, and things seem to finally be getting back to some sort of normalcy, President Kent Devereaux and the rest of Goucher’s Administration vastly researched and took calculated steps in order to safely bring students back to campus. 

President Deveraux joined the Goucher community in the summer of 2019, after leaving his previous job as the president of New Hampshire Institute of Art only one month prior. With Goucher being the fifth college he’s worked at in his career, he says he was attracted to the global education program and Goucher’s reputation for being open to innovation, change, access and equity.

“I actually heard Jose Bowen speak before I got here and I was very impressed with what was happening… I knew this wasn’t a conservative school that does the same things all the time,” he said. 

In his first seven months in the position, President Devereaux has been able to recruit six new leaders to fill key positions at the college, added eight new majors and launched a new 4+1 dual-degree program with Johns Hopkins University

Even with every accomplishment, he believes there was no way of knowing what was to come in March and the timely decisions that had to be made. At the time when it was announced that Maryland was planning on going into a statewide shutdown, President Devereaux was in Washington D.C. meeting with state legislators.

“You would think that they [the senators]  had any idea of what to do, but they didn’t. I mean this was a time when everyone didn’t really understand the need for facemasks, so I began to realize that this would be a huge decision,” he said. 

At the onset of the pandemic, the cabinet working under President Devereaux was “very slim” as he called it, with four out of his eight direct reports not yet hired. The Provost, Elaine Meyer Lee started her position in June, Michele Ewing, the Vice President of Advancing started in May, Aarika Camp, the Vice President and Dean of Students started in August, and Eric Thompson the Vice President for Campus Operations started in July. 

President Devereaux believes that even with all the uncertainty going around, him and his team were lucky enough to be able to get on a zoom call with some of the leading experts of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University. When these conversations were being had, they were able to get advice that could potentially help them learn what policies to put in place in order to contain the virus if students were to come back at that time. In addition to the epidemiologists, Goucher’s administration worked with Judy Gritz, who is an alumni for the class of 1972 then went on to study at Harvard and then got her doctorate at Stanford in infectious diseases. 

“We had an interesting mix of alums and health professionals that were kind of guiding us through this process,” he said. “We just had to play it by ear in a way.” 

As of Feb. 12, the Goucher administration announced that they would begin moving forward with their return to campus procedure for some students. This decision came after moving to a completely virtual semester for the rest of the 2020 spring semester, and the entire 2021 Fall semester. While the campus was closed to a majority of students and faculty, there were still some students allowed to live in residential halls if they had completed an emergency housing form and were approved. With a limited number of people actually staying on campus, President Devereaux and his team were not only able to find the most effective guidelines for students to follow to limit the virus’s spread but were also able to create a comprehensive plan for social distancing and testing. 

For the last seven weeks of the spring semester, Goucher extended the opportunity to fill out an application for housing, and if approved, students would be able to live on campus and complete the rest of the school year. President Devereaux said that he and his team were planning to bring students back earlier than that after he had commented on the GopherApp that the school would open for the complete Spring semester. Despite that being their hope, they decided to push back the opening because Maryland was “slower” at providing the vaccine, and at the time most of the faculty and health center workers had not gotten their vaccinations. 

 With the 63 students that lived on campus in the Fall semester, Goucher became the first college in Maryland to do wastewater testing according to President Deveraux. Since all of the wastewater from campus goes out one exit to the county’s sewage system, the administration was able to carry out weekly wastewater testing by building as well as the entire campus. This type of test gave them the ability to test the water and determine if someone living in that building had COVID. If so, they then required everyone that lived in that building to get tested for the virus. 

A majority of the students now living on campus are athletes. The athletic department and the administration worked closely with one another to figure out an efficient way to provide testing so they were able to catch a positive case quickly if need be. Instead of testing the wastewater once a week, they will now be testing each building and the whole campus twice a week. In terms of individual testing, all athletes and dancers are required to receive three rapid tests a week, while non-athletes are required to get tested twice during the week. 

“Being able to bring everyone back is a step-by-step process,” President Deveraux said. “We are eager to welcome everyone back on campus, but we also want to abide by the guidelines.” 

With all these important decisions being made, along with the implementation of new rules, students expressed their need for more transparency between the administration and the student body. President Devereaux understands the necessity for open communication and connection as he experienced it when he was in undergrad and participated in student government. 

To alleviate this miscommunication and confusion, Town Hall meetings were held weekly which allowed goucher’s administration to give updates to students as they were coming out and answer any questions or concerns regarding that information. At the start of the fall semester, 385 people attended the first town hall meeting, but as time went on, attendance declined and only around 40 people have been accounted for at the most recent meetings. President Devereaux also understands that he might not be able to answer everyone’s questions, and has directed students to specific faculty members that can provide more in-depth explanation to whatever they need to know. 

President Devereaux has come to realize that most students don’t know who works in his cabinet, and he believes that if they are able to provide an introduction to these people, that students would feel more comfortable going directly to them with their questions or concerns. As a solution, he hopes to start sending out weekly emails which will highlight different faculty members; who they are, what they do, and how they can help.

“I truly believe that most of the questions I get asked can be better answered by someone else… I can help, but they can give all the details about it,” he said. 

Improving communication over these last seven weeks, in addition to monitoring how things go with more students on campus, President Devereaux along with the rest of Goucher’s administration hopes to fully open campus to all students by the beginning of the Fall 2021 semester.

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