ASU President Weighs In On University's Response To Coronavirus

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Friday, April 3, 2020 - 1:40pm

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Michael Crow ASU
Arizona State University
Michael Crow

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Earlier this week on The Show, Attorney General Mark Brnovich joined us to talk about a variety of coronavirus-related topics. Among them is how ASU communicated with students and modified policies. Brnovich wasn't impressed, so I caught up with ASU President Michael Crow about an hour ago to get his reaction to Brnovich and learn more about how the university is dealing with everyday business and the concerns of students.

MICHAEL CROW: You know, what's interesting about Attorney General Brnovich and his comments relative to COVID-19 and higher education and so forth and so on is he's never asked us a single question. He's never inquired on anything, and so, frankly, I don't really know what he is communicating. We are in total alignment with the state health department, total alignment with CDC guidelines. We have been managing, I think, very well, the issues of this particular virus. You know, universities are historically places that are really complicated to begin with — we worry about meningitis, we worry about measles, we have mandatory vaccination requirements for entry to the university, we manage complex environments. And in this particular case, this particular complexity is being managed very well and in complete compliance with the notion of federal statute, federal law, personal privacy and so forth. And so I think our teams have done a very good job of managing the life of our students. You know, the vast majority of our students don't live on campus— they live more broadly. It's just something that I don't even know where he's coming from because he hasn't been briefed, he hasn't asked any questions, he doesn't have any data, he doesn't have any facts, he doesn't understand the nature of the of the public health department's rules, the Federal Privacy Acts. I mean, we live in a country where a person with a disease or a virus is not spotlighted in terms of where they live and where they are, because it's the belief of the health department that the best way to solve these kinds of things is to follow very strict procedures.

GOLDSTEIN: If you had your druthers, would you have been more aggressive, or do you feel like what you said is right on — you're following the guidelines and that's how it's going to work?

CROW: Well, I mean, you know, we're servicing right now 150,000 learners. You know, we're a critical industry, as they say, teaching and learning and discovery. We have over 100 research groups working in COVID-related research. We just stood up a robot-based, high-speed COVID testing unit. We're working on high-speed, paper-based COVID testing. Our students just designed and deployed a test bed for a distributed manufacturing network using mobile distributed 3D printers to manufacture PPE equipment. We've got a team working on— an elaborate team— working probably in one of the most advanced labs in the world on what is the genetic origin of all coronaviruses — not just this one — but all of the families of the viruses, and how did they evolve in human beings and how do they interact? Because that's gonna be the best way to defeat it. I'm giving you all this background information because we're running an institution which is simultaneously teaching 150,000 people-plus, including K-12 students, simultaneously advancing to the public hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people teaching, learning and engagement material. We have figured out how to run the university with 25,000 staff or so in a largely distributed fashion — 90, 95% of our staff are distributed and doing very well. And so we're practicing social distancing, we're implementing to the letter the no assembly modes, we're working in ways of maximum sanitation, we've got the people that are living with us are eating food at a very high level, the highest level possible, of food safety— packaged food, distributed and picked up or delivered, you know, that kind of thing. And so we're fully operational and also living within the desire to keep people apart from each other for a while.

GOLDSTEIN: Some students have expressed concerns and in fact, the Board of Regents [is] facing a lawsuit over fees they've already paid for housing and other things. How do you decide on that in terms of whether to refund or not to refund? What's your perspective on that and do you feel like you are on solid ground on that?

CROW: Well, you know, I think that's an outstanding question, and I can understand why people ask it. You know, what we said initially was, "Hey, you know, give us a chance to figure out what day of the week it is," you know, figure out what's happening as the national pandemic emerged. And I said, what I said at the time was that when we have a chance to take our breath on this particular matter, as opposed to standing up the university and its full teaching, learning and discovery modality on the frontline of response to this national emergency, we'll get back to you on where we are relative to residence halls. We got back to people this week on residence halls and we said that if you're not in the residence halls as of April 15, we'll give you credit for a certain amount related to what you're not using for next year in the residence halls. If you're not coming back to the residence halls, then we'll give you credit on your financial aid package. And then if you're graduating, then we'll give you, you know, monetary credit. We'll give you cash. And so that decision has been made and communicated. We think it's fair in the context of what we're doing. It just wasn't the time when we were first asked to be able to answer that question. We had many other questions that we needed to be able to answer and many other complexities that we were working our way through. We now can answer that question and have answered it.

GOLDSTEIN: So we've talked a lot on this station about how K-12 students are being affected with the close of the school year and trying to learn from home. It is certainly a different animal when it comes to the university level. But can you give us some of the challenges of that in terms of continuing the vision that you have and you want to be able to offer to ASU students uniquely? And yet there is still that motion of what is it like to be on campus versus off campus when it comes to learning?

CROW: You know, I think that in the long term or long run, the notion of being socially together on campus will return to historical normalcy at some point. And so I don't have a long-term concern for that. But to this notion of K-12 learning and all that's engaged there, what we need is — our charter schools, by the way, our 11 charter schools, which are K-12 charter schools, are all open and running in digital formats. We didn't miss one day going forward. That's because we had technology that allowed us to be nimble. The key here is keeping the social fabric together, keeping people connected, learning how to operate in this social distancing mode and then preparing to come back in whatever form that we come back, where we can take advantage of the tools that we've been able to put in place. In the case of the broader K-12 community, what we've got to do is find ways to speed this process of adaptation, speed this process of technology empowerment. And Steve, we're doing everything we can to help the K-12 community to be able to do that. We released "ASU for You" a week or so ago, which has instructional materials for teachers and families and parents and communities and so forth, ways to finish high school, ways to move to college. And so basically the key is in all of these things is to, you know, find ways to move forward irregardless.

GOLDSTEIN: To what extent over the short-intermediate term do you see it affecting international students? Of course, we've learned a long time ago that the world is flat when it comes to education, the economy, etc. How long does this impact that going forward?

CROW: Well, you know, in some ways the world already is globalized, and this virus portrays that— this virus started, obviously, with a single person and moved quickly. And so globalization is something that we have to ... and the interconnectedness of the economies around the planet and the interconnectedness of the people around the planet — we need to give more thought to how to make this all work in ways in which we can produce, in a sense, enhanced economic outcomes, enhanced social development, enhanced development of democratic ideals, you know, all of these things. And so, what does it mean in the short term? There's a lot of disruption out there. We don't know exactly where the disruption will end up, but there's a lot of disruption in terms of international students. We have international students here who can't go home. We have students who were on their way here who can't be here. I mean, lots of disruption, and all of that has to be worked through.

GOLDSTEIN: And that is ASU President Michael Crow speaking with us earlier today. 

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