Cameron University has canceled graduation, shut down most campus facilities and gone to distance learning-only education to allow students to complete the Spring 2020 semester and take summer classes.
But, officials still are working to resolve the problems that result from those decisions, Cameron President John McArthur said.
Cameron officially announced that most of its buildings were closed to the public effective Thursday, but the decision isn’t as easy as it seems. The campus employs 480, ranging from instructors and administrators who deal with education to the support staff that allows the campus to actually operate. That means while most buildings are closed, not everyone gets to go home.
McArthur said 200 students remain on campus, housed in dorm rooms or campus apartments because they can’t get home or have no other place to stay. The first level of essential personnel who remain on campus are those supporting those students, he said, of workers from public safety, maintenance and food services that remain in place.
Instructional staff is another level, about 137 employees whose job is to educate students and those personnel have been directed to continue offering education in a remote fashion (the campus had been allowing small groups to gather for instructional work, but that has ended). There are administrative employees who are working remotely, meaning they are working from home while linked to the campus through a secured digital network.
McArthur was among those few actually on campus Thursday, working to evaluate students who have submitted applications for Cameron PLUS, a scholarship program for the university’s top students.
Such student-centered efforts will continue, but in a new format, McArthur said, of the challenge of helping students finish their education while the university’s leaders abide by Mayor Stan Booker’s Civil Emergency Proclamation that has closed all non-essential businesses in Lawton and limited social gatherings to 10 people or less.
Cameron is working with an April 16 end date in mind (the time frame cited in the proclamation), but is aware that deadline may extended, McArthur said.
One of the major adjustments: there won’t be a May commencement ceremony in Cameron Stadium.
“Commencement has been canceled, for now,” McArthur said, adding he is trying to give students and staff “date certain” resuming times for activities when he uses the word “postponed” and he doesn’t have that yet for commencement.
While graduation won’t take place in May, McArthur said his staff are exploring options for students who would have participated. And, they are keeping in mind that students groups have said they would need six to eight weeks to prepare for a new commencement ceremony, whenever that may be.
“We want to do it right,” McArthur said, calling graduation a right of passage that students earn and deserve. “It’s too big of an event to ignore.”
But, he can’t say when that ceremony will happen, noting that will depend on things get back to normal. August is a possibility, December another; he also is willing to entertain the idea of adding the Class of 2020 to the Class of 2121’s graduation.
Another dilemma his staff is addressing are students who don’t have housing options outside of campus. While some international students went home, most remained, he said, of many of the 200 students still in university housing. Those students will remain and the campus has arranged for its cafeteria to provide “grab and go” boxed meals, allowing students to come to the food court and get a take-out meal.
Students who leave their dorms or apartments for temporary housing elsewhere won’t be allowed back.
“We’re trying to limit the campus population,” McArthur said.
Spring semester classes have moved “100 percent” to virtual instruction, or techniques ranging from teleconferencing to email lessons. The campus had been allowing in-person classes of up to 10 students, for those who had hands-on lab work associated with their course (such as chemistry and biology students). That won’t happen now, but instructors and administrators are working to find a way around requirements, he said.
While most medical-related students have finished their clinicals, there are students that have associated labs, internships and observation periods associated with their majors. For example, education majors have a requirement for class observation and teaching, and officials are working on a way to resolve that requirement, McArthur said, explaining that adjustments for such students may mean allowing them to complete coursework at a later time, at no added expense.
“That is causing a lot of anxiety for students,” he said, of student ability to complete course requirements and, in some cases, complete clinicals required before students can test for certification in their career fields.
McArthur and other education administrators have stressed the work involved in converting traditional classrooms to online instruction, in a short amount of time. While Cameron already offers about 150 classes online, it has had to move another 500 that way in less than a week. While the university isn’t in the dark — “We have some experience” — it still is a daunting task, McArthur said.
That online format will continue into the Summer 2020 semester, he said, explaining the university already decided to offer summer courses outside traditional classroom settings. He said the Summer semester could see new courses, with the campus replacing some electives with its rotation classes, or required courses that are offered only once a year.
The goal, he said, is to ensure students are not delayed in earning their degrees.
Cameron also is looking ahead with the thought that Fall 2020 will open as usual. That class schedule is online (as is the summer schedule) and students already are enrolling.
“We’re planning to be here in August,” he said.
In the meantime, while campus buildings are locked down and athletic venues are closed, students and the community still may use the campus. Cameron is a popular walking destination for those who who want to exercise, and that’s still possible, as long as visitors observe the 6-foot social distancing, McArthur said.