UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green Talks About First Week of School During a Pandemic

Aug. 27, 2020, 4:45 p.m. ·

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green. (Photo courtesy of UNL)

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In-person classes at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln started earlier this week as thousands of students returned to a campus that had been virtually deserted since the start of the pandemic. NET’s Jack Williams spoke with UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green about the first week and how the school is handling its new reality.

NET News: You've nearly completed the first week of in-person instruction at UNL. What are your initial impressions of how students, faculty and staff have adjusted to what amounts to kind of a new reality on campus?

Chancellor Ronnie Green: Well, we've been very pleased with how it's rolled out and how it's working. About 70%, roughly, of our courses, sections of courses across the campus have an in person component to them. Very proud of what our faculty have done, what our students have done, to return to an in-person semester. And so far, it's going really, really well.

NET News: Are you concerned at all about student behavior? As we get deeper into the fall semester, maybe students get more comfortable and maybe slack off when it comes to social distancing? Is there a message there for students?

Chancellor Green: Yeah, we of course, have communicated very much with our students through the summer as they come to campus and with their parents. My observation is that our students, during this kind of burn in I'll call it to our semester of this this week and last week, is that they actually are taking the guidance more seriously by day rather than less. So as they have adapted to the new environment, and all of us are doing that, you know, all of us are kind of beginning to adapt to this new kind of mechanism that will continue to work through society, I think our students are taking it more rather than less. So as I've walked campus every day and interacted with students and faculty, I see more masks, not less. I see greater attention to social distancing, including outdoors. Yesterday we had hundreds of students spread out across our campus green space between The Union and Kaufmann, there, The Fountains on City Campus. I was watching carefully how they're interacting with one another. They're doing it in a very organized way. We are all social animals, we all desire to be able to interact together. We've been in a situation where that's been hard to do four or five months now and our students I think are taking this very seriously. We already have had two quarantined Greek houses on our campus where we've been very careful to assure no clusters of COVID-19 breakout or erupt, so any evidence of that happening, we immediately have the opportunity to put our arms around and protect and take care of making sure that doesn't become an issue. So I'm, I'm really encouraged by that with the case that we're we might have gatherings we were on top of those, and we're encouraging and being sure that students understand the risk associated with those and how we help them to understand not to do risky behavior.

NET News: Obviously the concern going forward at you UNL is more students equals that maybe a bigger possibility and more cases on campus. Have you determined how you will proceed? If there is a bigger cluster, how do you move forward if there is a bigger outbreak on campus?

Chancellor Green: Yeah, so first thing I would say Jack is we did open our own testing center. We've had testing all summer and through the past months with our health center and with other test vendors, but we did open an on-site testing center with through Test Nebraska with the State on August 12th. And that's been operative for scheduled testing for students, faculty and staff in our community. We've seen relatively low caseloads for a campus of a size of over 30,000 people involved on campus, you know, as part of our community. With that all said, we have those data coming forward. We are getting that information linked to the Lincoln and Lancaster County Health Department working hand in hand with them for helping to control any community transmission. And if that community transmission were to occur in ways that we feel like we needed to quarantine a part of the campus or we needed to quarantine a dormitory or a floor of a dormitory or a Greek house, as I mentioned earlier, we have the mechanisms in place to be able to do that and stop that spread. And at the same time protect our students and our faculty and the community of Lincoln to be able to, to continue to manage the case loads of COVID-19.

NET News: What has this whole process of getting ready for a school year in the middle of a pandemic taught you as a leader? Any early takeaways about how you would handle things in the future?

Chancellor Green: Yeah, I mean, anytime that you're in what you would call an ever-changing daily kind of, many would use the word crisis, like this, you adapt I mean, you have to be willing to adapt and be flexible and be resilient. I think that's what we have done. You asked me earlier before we started talking here on the radio about it you have ever dealt with anything quite like this before? You know, I've dealt with corporate situations that are very complicated in terms of business continuity, and thinking about business continuity. These things are no different than that we just have to focus on, making good decisions moving forward, being able to move forward safely. I'm very proud of what our leadership at the university, across the board, of our leadership team and our faculty and now our students, are bringing to the table in order to be able to do that and be one of the leaders in the country and how we're doing it as it's playing out.