President Feaver: Looking Towards 2021

President Feaver reflects on the disruptions of the past year and looks towards a bright future
President Feaver reflects on the disruptions of the past year and looks towards a bright future

Since the first Oklahoma Legislature created this special institution in 1908, we have been dedicated to serving a particular type of student. While this school has been known under several names, our historic academic DNA has never changed. Today, our faculty at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma are charged with providing high-quality liberal arts learning opportunities for academically and artistically talented students, and their teaching efforts are focused exclusively on providing an exceptional baccalaureate education. From their freshman through senior years, USAO students are required to spend half their time studying the traditional arts and sciences beyond the scope of their major.

In a pragmatic sense, this extensive and challenging core curriculum serves every student’s post-graduate employment and financial goals; however, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic’s collateral damage to the social, economic and political well-being of our nation and our world, it is now obvious how much more is needed from our graduates than simply attending to certain job requirements.

While none of us can truthfully say that we were prepared for the changes that the pandemic has wrought, I am astonished and humbled at the efforts of the USAO family in mitigating the worst effects of this virus. Throughout 2020, the number of active COVID-19 cases on our campus remained low. Even with the more difficult situation we are facing now, I am confident that we will be able to continue down the successful path that we have trod thus far. In the coming year, we will have to surmount a number of significant challenges, but we also possess some very real opportunities and are positioned in such a way as to take full advantage of them in the near term.

To protect the health and safety of everyone on campus, we will continue the same protocols that have been in place since March of last year, with masks required, restrictions on public use, no fans at Drover athletic events, and a hybrid class structure that brings students together as much as possible while also heavily leveraging online learning. With campus housing currently at 75% capacity, students are encouraged to socially distance as much as possible and are prohibited from having outside guests. The number of COVID-19 cases emerging in our on-campus housing last year were extremely small, and with these continued regulations in place, we hope to see a similar situation as the spring term gets under way.

Though there has been an enormous amount of news coverage about the damage that the pandemic has done to the American economy, and we must remain enormously cautious in the near term, both state and federal funding for education looks rosier than had been predicted. Both sides of the aisle have a keen awareness of how much the disruptions of 2020 have affected students at every level, and there is a broad-based political will to help them make up for lost time. Federally, USAO is poised to receive approximately $1.6 million in stimulus funding, of which $500,000 is earmarked for student support.

The USAO Foundation has had a roller-coaster year like any organization managing invested funds, but at the end of 2020, the Foundation’s earnings are up nearly 10.6%. We have embarked on a series of large-scale renovations projects to many of the university’s historic buildings, and now several of them are near completion. Improvements to the 24-hour commuter lab in Nash Library are being completed, making the space warmer and more welcoming to the increasing percentage of USAO students who do not live on campus, as well as remodeling the veranda at the Stevens Alumni House to allow for more diverse uses. More ambitious off-campus projects include the near completion of improvements to the Art Wrecker gallery, with an eye towards creating a more integrated, interactive off-campus experience with local businesses in Chickasha’s historic downtown, as well as funding the lab and technology infrastructure at the McLaughlin Research Center, still under construction, at our Habitat Area west of town. Overall, we remain engaged in an aggressive search for funds for a wide variety of projects that will improve our ability to fulfill our mission and support our students’ mental, physical and intellectual well-being.

While I am heartened that we now have multiple viable vaccines for COVID-19, we must not let our guard down yet. As our public health infrastructure has struggled with distribution in the face of an overwhelming demand, we must all do our due diligence and continue to follow the latest guidelines closely. Despite none of us having lived through a viral pandemic such as this, I cannot express how proud I am of the efforts that everyone at USAO has made in both mitigating the terrible effects of this disease and in showing the grit and determination needed to offer our students with the education they desire, the education that they came to USAO for and which only we can provide. As we start to win the battle against COVID-19, I hope you will all stay the course so we can emerge from this stronger, wiser and more united than we ever have been.

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