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ASU President Michael Crow Outlines Expectations For New School Year As Students Return Aug. 20

Michael Crow ASU
Arizona State University
Michael Crow

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The Pac-12, including Arizona State, made the decision to postpone all of its fall sports to the spring, as the pandemic continues to make planning extremely difficult and having fans attend games seems impossible at the moment. But even as athletic program supporters won't be on campus, thousands of ASU students will be by [Aug. 20]. Most classes will be offered as a combination of on-campus and via Zoom, while a number of other universities, including Grand Canyon and NAU, are starting their semesters with only online courses. Earlier I spoke with ASU President Michael Crow and began by asking about his expectations for this abnormal beginning to the school year.

MICHAEL CROW: You know, I am optimistic that we're going to move into a modality where we can manage this virus effectively. I'm excited for our students, excited for their families. We've created an environment where we have advanced teaching technologies, we have advanced testing technology, we have advanced health assessment technologies, we have advanced social interaction systems put in place. And, you know, our hope is that this gives us an opportunity to manage our relationship with this virus because this virus isn't going away.

GOLDSTEIN: The relationship with the virus has not been a great one so far. Do you expect this to be able to cohabitate with this thing at some point, or is this going to have to be knocked out by, by the vaccine, by continuing to work on better ways of testing and getting more information?

CROW: We think it will, it'll take all of those things because, you know, all the coronaviruses — this is the sixth or seventh — all of them are still here with our species. They all continue to evolve and this won't be the last one. So what we're doing is we're just figuring out how to manage this very complicated relationship with this organism. And we're gonna need every tool imaginable. We're going to need the vaccine tools, the testing tools. We're going to need new ways that we act ourselves, new social constructs, a new teaching constructs. It's, you know, it'll all work out. We just have to figure it out.

GOLDSTEIN: There have been obviously some members of the staff, a certain number, that signed a letter recently saying that they're a little bit concerned about how things are being handled. They wish they would have been consulted more. Can you give us an idea when you're running a university of that size, which is enormous, what goes into that? And as far as communication goes with, with staff, faculty, etc.?

CROW: Well, you know, I, I, I appreciate the letter very much. You know, in the sense of these are people who are communicating their concerns, they felt like they didn't have enough information. They, the letter was written right after the superintendent of Public Instruction made her decisions about public schools. And then people are like, "Well, we're a public school. What does that mean?" And so, so we, we needed to go back and do a better job of communicating with people and giving them more information. So, and these, these folks were ones that had legitimate concerns about things that they hadn't heard about or things that they didn't know about or things that they didn't know what our, what our strategy was or where we were headed. And so we needed to go back and do a better job of communicating with them. I mean, you're right, Steve, it is a massive institution. You know, 100,000 staff and students, you know, physically here with us, and hundreds of thousands of others that are attached to us. And so, you know, we just have to be ever diligent to keep people informed as to our logic, our tools, our method, our techniques and also our willingness to listen, which we've tried to go back and do.

GOLDSTEIN: Can you afford to listen to people in the same way as you might listen to other people? I mean, you have to, to gauge in terms of what their concerns are and take that into account? But you also have to take into account how many people are worried about it?

CROW: Well, yeah, you do. But, I mean, I'm, I'm a big believer that, you know, even people complaining have a kernel to their complaint that you need to see what it is, like, "What is causing this particular problem or this particular issue?" And these folks weren't complaining, they were just expressing their anxiety. And, you know, if you, if you're relying completely on, you know, national media to get a sense of what's going on, it's not, it's not particularly effective to know what's going on here in Arizona or what's going on here at the university. And so we have to listen to everybody. We have to respond. We have to make decisions. And then, and then we want, everybody won't be happy. But at least we tried hard to, you know, to listen as closely as we could and then and respond as best as we could. And I think we have. You know, we have ways for faculty to Zoom in and Zoom out, students to Zoom in and Zoom out. We have testing technology available for everyone. We have our Community of Care policy. We have our daily health check, which is highly advanced on an app. We have, we're giving out [100,000-150,000] Community of Care kits with masks and sanitizer and thermometers to every single person. All of what you need in this particular world so. While we're trying to listen and deal with folks' concerns, questions and anxieties.

GOLDSTEIN: What have you noticed so far in terms of what you've got for fall enrollment in terms of people who are going to be on campus and your online students? Have you seen a shift?

CROW: We have a dramatic enrollment increase between all of our modalities. So we're up about 8%. The, the on-campus enrollment is running right now about 1% less than last year, with all of that attributable to international students who aren't able to get here — who want to be here but physically can't get here. Online enrollment is up almost 30% for our pure online activity.

GOLDSTEIN: I did want to ask specifically about international students, though, in terms of where that is at and, and how does that affect money for the system, at least for the short term? And how does that affect your exposure internationally, perhaps even accolades internationally?

CROW: It's complicated. So about 15% of our international students, give or take, either ones who were already here, but more likely ones that were coming for the first time because most that were here already couldn't get back to wherever they lived — they can't get here. And so they're deferring, we hope, until the spring semester. There is a revenue impact, obviously, from these full tuition-paying students who receive very little in form, in the form of scholarships. And so that's a financial stress to the institution. And then in terms of working with other countries, we're dealing with all kinds of political issues. You know, as countries get into arguments and so forth and so on. And, you know, the tradition in the U.S. has been to be home for students from all over the world and then send these millions of students back to help change the world. And then, and then also, you know, pick some of the best ones and keep them here to become unbelievable contributors to the American economy and American society. And so there's a little disruption around all of that right now, unfortunately. But nonetheless, the students are staying closely connected to ASU and closely linked to ASU, and we're, we're confident that we can make this all work at some point.

GOLDSTEIN: Let's talk briefly about on-campus life and what that's going to be like, as you mentioned, talking about people trying to compare it to K-12 and it just doesn't jibe in a lot of ways. In one sense, you have young adults who can take certain kinds of classes, have a certain track. They also have a different kind of social behavior, obviously, as far as that goes too. If you get a situation where some students don't want to wear masks for whatever reason. What, what happens there and what do, what do instructors potentially have to do?

CROW: Well, our Community of Care plan is something everyone is agreeing to, to be on campus. Students, staff and faculty. And so if you don't want to wear masks, then don't go, don't come to campus because masks are required on campus. If you don't want to wear a mask for whatever reason, then just take your classes by Zoom, because in the Community of Care, you have to do your daily health check, you have to wear a mask, you have to be socially distanced and so forth. And so. So within that model of the Community of Care, this is how we operate. If you don't want to be a part of that Community of Care, then you can, you can Zoom into your classes from wherever you want. And so we've created this ability for choice. If you make the choice to be on campus, you're going to act in responsible ways. If you make the choice not to be on campus, you can act, hopefully, in responsible ways but, but you're not going to be impacting other people on campus.

GOLDSTEIN: Let's say on-campus though, you get someone who wants to make a statement. What's the repercussion there?

CROW: Well, masks are required. And so, so, you know, you can't be in a class if you're not wearing a mask and you'll be subject to, to student discipline or academic discipline if you violate the policies that we put in place. It's all in a sense, it's all wrapped up into the student code of conduct. It's not a matter of free speech. It's a matter of a health decision that we made, which we have the authority to do.

GOLDSTEIN: Dr. Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University. Dr. Crow, thanks as always. Take care.

CROW: Thanks a lot, Steve.

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Steve Goldstein was a host at KJZZ from 1997 to 2022.