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CSU: Leading Today, Preparing for Tomorrow

An Op-Ed by CSU President Harlan Sands

An edited version of this piece was published by on May 10.

Cleveland State University’s campus would normally be bustling right now with students completing spring semester work and 2,200 graduating seniors preparing to walk across the stage. Instead, our campus is uncharacteristically quiet with teaching and learning moved to virtual classrooms through the summer. These are far from normal times. 

But appearances can be deceiving. While campus might appear quiet on the surface, we are working tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure we are meeting our students’ needs today, while looking ahead so we are prepared to welcome them back to campus when the time is right in a way that ensures their safety. That’s a tall order but collaborating with our city and state leaders and other university presidents across Ohio, we are confident we will come up with a plan to get it done. 

All of us at CSU have a strong stake in the future of Cleveland and our region. And there is no time more important than now to define a post coronavirus “CSU 2.0” -– that will expand our ability to provide the high quality, affordable and engaged learning experience that produces degrees that lead to jobs in Cleveland and in Northeast Ohio. 

To do this effectively, we are focused on three things: 

  • Delivering now on our promise to get faculty, staff and students through to the other side of the Coronavirus “vortex” 
  • Charting a course forward that repopulates our campus in a way that safeguards the health of our CSU community while protecting and building public trust 
  • Planning now to realign our resources with CSU’s most critical strategic priorities 

We are well on our way to making good on our commitment to getting students through this spring. We were very deliberate in our move to remote teaching and learning so that we could (1) partner with faculty in a way that ensured they had what they needed to continue their commitment to excellence in teaching, (2) ensured no student was left behind by providing laptops, internet access and support services to those who could not afford these things (with great community support from the Federal Reserve and others), (3) distributed thousands of dollars in grants to needy students and their families even before the CARES Act was passed, then augmented our program with $6 million in CARES funding, and (4) increased our online mental health and student support services, created group chat rooms to connect students, provided webinars on budgeting and time management, and delivered additional outreach to students. 

We are taking a leadership role across the state and our region in establishing protocols to repopulate our campus. CSU is leading a working group comprised of representatives from all 14 state universities to work through scenarios to open our respective campuses. Our goal: develop a unified and coordinated approach to resuming campus operations across Ohio so that students and families can have confidence that we have done all in our power to ensure campuses are safe and ready before anyone returns. Although there are still many unknowns, we know we must prepare now if we are to successfully repopulate our campus in a way that minimizes exposure. 

We will use this opportunity to redefine ourselves in light of economic realities. Ohio has yet to see the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our state-funded institutions. We are no exception. Given current expectations, and expected enrollment patterns, it is possible we will be facing financial challenges that go beyond what we faced in 2008. In response, we have commissioned an initial “CSU 2.0” Task Force to identify and prioritize options and help set a course for additional dialogue and critical action plans. At the same time, I along with our senior leadership team are convening conversations across campus to ensure we best define and protect our academic core and build upon our clinical, internship and co-op experiences that are critical to our unique learning environment. This is a time of great change in higher education, and our ability to focus on what we do best - provide a high-quality educational experience at value that leads to productive careers in Northeast Ohio - will define our future. 

Even though it may feel like our world is on pause, I can assure you that we are not at rest. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we are resilient and determined to come out of this stronger and even more ready to bring CSU and our broader community forward together.

Harlan Sands is the President of Cleveland State University.