Interview with Andrew Leavitt,

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Andrew Leavitt on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. for Campus COVID stories. Campus COVID Stories is a collection of oral stories from students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh about their experiences in the time of COVID. Thank you for sharing your stories with us. Before we get started, could you please state your name and spell it for us?

AL: My name is Andrew Leavitt, A-N-D-R-E-W L-E-A-V-I-T-T.

GL: And for the purposes of getting a good audio recording, tell us again who you are and what your title is here at UW Oshkosh.

AL: I'm Andrew Leavitt. I'm the Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

GL: And before we dive into your campus COVID story, I'd like to get to know you a little bit better. Just tell us a little bit about where you grew up.

AL: I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and spent my college years in Tucson at the University of Arizona, before moving on to the University of Utah for graduate school, earned a Ph.D. in chemistry in graduate school and then accepted my 00:01:00first academic position at what is now called University of West Georgia in the state of Georgia.

GL: Ah you know, even before that, what did your parents do?

AL: My parents were both college educated. My father was a professor of physics at the University of Arizona. My mother worked in the publishing business before she had children. But when she started having children in the 1950s, she quit outside work and became a full time mom and house and homemaker excuse me, I can't remember the archaic term for that homemaker. And then she later in life, she went back to work after her children were grown.

GL: And tell me again, your undergraduate degree is from somewhere.

AL: Yes, I have an undergraduate degree in chemistry with minors in physics and mathematics from the University of Arizona.

GL: Okay. And then how did you end up here at UW Oshkosh?

00:02:00

AL: Well, I had assumed progressively bigger roles in college administration starting first as the Associate Vice President for Development, alumni relations, of course, I was a faculty member prior to that, a professor of chemistry. Once I became an AVP, for developing alumni relations, I was then a Vice President for University Advancement, which runs the external operations of a university. In and after some successes that I enjoyed at a school that I was at, I felt I was ready to be president and started applying for a few presidencies at schools that were much like UW Oshkosh. And I was very fortunate to become the chancellor here in November of 2014.

GL: And then, what was your position? I mean, tell us a little bit about what you did prior to COVID. And in March of 2020.

AL: Well, of course, as the chancellor, I'm the overall CEO of the institution, 00:03:00the three campuses, of course, here, we, I run it the administrative structure, and as well as that there's a sort of a very important values role associated with being Chancellor that you want to be able to reflect the values of the institution and your own personal conduct, and lead as an example. So I was we were in the midst of working through a multi year enrollment decline, which had put great economic and budgetary pressure on the institution. So I was leading efforts at that point along with the Vice Chancellors to work our way out of that which we have done successfully. Certainly before COVID, we're well on our way to now that COVID is complete, we're in a much better financial position.

GL: How big is UWO?

AL: University of Wisconsin Oshkosh right now, with all of the students to whom we provide services to is about 13 to 14,000 14,000 students,

00:04:00

GL: And how many staff?

AL: We have approximately 1,300 FTE faculty staff, which translates to about 1600 people.

GL: Okay, so let's move to the early days of COVID. I mean, do you recall the first time you heard of this virus?

AL: Yeah, we began hearing about COVID, really in November of 2019. And it was popping up on the television, the TV news, and it was more about China at that point, and that Wuhan China was the center of this outbreak. We actually had a faculty member who was in Wuhan at the time, who made it back successfully and the person was unaffected by it. But we we certainly were aware that there was the word pandemic was starting to be used and that this is a highly contagious pathogen that was that was had the potential from for becoming a pandemic, what 00:05:00people may have forgotten is that about a year before that we went through a period of time here where the Norovirus was present on campus here and affecting approximately 3,000 students. And the Norovirus, of course, is a gastrointestinal virus that is short-lived. But it's a very, very unpleasant virus to have. And it's exceedingly contagious. And the outbreak was primarily in our residence halls. And so at that time, our Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, Cheryl Green, was the point person on that working with student health and responding to the outcome. So we actually developed, we have a pandemic policy on hand in terms of our emergency management. But that pandemic policy was put into effect as a result of this Norovirus outbreak. And it allowed us to spin up at that time and not knowing that we would need it later. Groups like 00:06:00our emergency operations center in involving a wide swath of people on campus in order to respond to an immediate threat on campus. So we had that experience prior to going in. And so it was actually to give credit where credit is due. Dr. Green along with our chief of police, Kurt Leibold, who really started looking at the potential of the COVID-19 virus hitting our campus and are hitting the region and hitting the campus. So we actually stood up our emergency operations center in December of 2019. It was my recollection of the timeline. This is months before we ended up actually evacuating the campus. And so that that response, of course, at a time was run by Kurt Leibold.

GL: Let's go back to the Norovirus. How long did that situation last?

AL: I want to say it was two to three weeks, and we were looking at daily case 00:07:00counts. It's in you know, we were there was a lot of work that was being done in residence halls. We wanted people to essentially shelter in place, and not leave the residence hall because as they did, they were simply spreading the virus to other places. So it was probably a two to three week episode where we were looking at daily case counts. I do remember when it was all said and done. I bought pizza for all the workers involved. And we had a pizza party just to celebrate the fact that they had done such a great job.

GL: And who were involved in that.

AL: Again, it was a vice chancellor Green was the really the main respondent. We had our they had our Student Health Center at the time was involved as well, in any number of custodial, I should say on the really on the front lines were our 00:08:00custodial crews, who did some very, very valiant work under some very difficult conditions.

GL: So in December 2019, you, the EOC gathered, but what happened there,

AL: You'd have to ask Kurt Leibold about that, because that was done with my knowledge, but not my participation, which was important to note that as a matter of fact, I've only attended maybe three EOC meetings during the entire two years of COVID. That's just simply not how the chain of command worked.

GL: Okay And then at what point did you think this is, you know,COVID-19 is something that that we need to really think about and be concerned with?

AL: Yeah, certainly going into February. We were certainly meeting about it more frequently. I remember, in early March, holding, we have a meeting in town 00:09:00called the sounding board, which is a collection of some of the chief administrators in the region. There was a city manager, the mayor myself, the Fox Valley Technical College School System superintendent, and this is meeting at the convener, of course is is John Casper from the Oshkosh Area Chamber of Commerce. And I remember, the administrators in the room had a full-throated conversation about COVID and how we were going to respond and how it's quite likely that we may end up having to shut things down. This was, I want to say in early March. And I remember there's people in the meeting who were somewhat flabbergasted by that idea. They just didn't see it coming in. I I get that it was still far from our shores as it were. The beginning part of March, I would say by the first week of March, I knew that this was going to be very serious when the University of Washington closed. They closed to face-to-face classes. 00:10:00And they were the very first educational institution to my knowledge to have closed. And then it really started to cascade as almost a tsunami, the Cal State system closed. They're in. And then on the East Coast, New York, it was an early, very hotspot in COVID, and you saw those institutions close. And then the tsunamis, if you will, rolled in from both sides of the country simultaneously, and of course, we're in the middle. So it hit the Midwest last in that way. And at that point, we were having meetings at the system level is how do we best respond? It's a system, nobody was really sure what was going to happen. You know, okay, if we close, what does that mean? And so we did have, again through EOC, and of course, working with our provost, John Koker, we had long 00:11:00discussions about what would it take for us to pivot and go from being completely face-to-face or actually 81% face-to-face, we at the time, we were 19% online 81, face-to-face to completely face-to-face. [online] And it really became a resource issue had to do with what was happening in information technology IT? Could we get cameras and microphones in the hands of faculty fast enough? You know, we have a procurement system, which is rather archaic. Could we remove equipment from classrooms, and make better use of that, you know, for more remote learning? And those are the kinds of questions we were planning on serious certainly up through the first part of March. When again, and it got it got real again, to me. When we went to an event, System held event UW System held event called Research Under the Rotunda, which was on a Wednesday was March 00:12:0011. That Wednesday, and the Chancellors go, we have a lot of students come and they show posters in the rotunda. And of course, what was on the topics of all of the Chancellor's minds and we were all there along with system. The system President Ray Cross was "what do we what do we who's going to do what when," and there was always sort of a tendency to see what Madison was going to do first. UW Madison and and oftentimes, they would make decisions, which were completely independent of the system. And which you know, when you're the 800-pound gorilla, you can do that. So that Madison had made that decision that they were going to go on spring break. They were scheduled to go on spring break next week, and and then come back a week later, and they would be remote, or may have been two weeks later, and they would be remote. And so then that decision was 00:13:00done. The other thing that I found remarkable about that day, and I remember this so distinctly was that the National Basketball Association canceled its season on the 11th of March, which was a Wednesday. So we went back to our campus, of course. And in concert with UW system, we made the decision that we still had a full week of classes next week that we were going to remain in class until the Wednesday I believe the Wednesday of that week. And then that would be the last day of class. And then we would take off the bounce of the week, go on spring break. There was two full weeks in there. I know that the faculty and staff had to flip to remote, and then come back. And so we made that announcement on I believe, on the 12th of March, which was the Thursday that the university would in fact go completely remote. Within two weeks. I remember the 00:14:00following week, it was just so surreal here in that we all knew that we were leaving, that we were still there. And I know that I know, I was in meetings where we were trying to do our best to observe social distancing, you know, we were all in the same room. At that point. There were no masks. The masks came later. There were no masks and and you know, we were trying to social distance. And so we did leave campus by that following Wednesday.

GL: So, as Chancellor, I mean, you had weigh so many things, you know, not you know, the easy thing would just be let's just close this close to campus. Make everybody go away. I mean, what else are you You know, what's on your mind?

AL: Well, of course, the operations of the campus, public safety is a huge factor. What do we do with residence halls? Each one of these decisions were made locally, the way the EOC worked was they would formulate a series of 00:15:00recommendations, which then they would bring them to me, I would consult with the cabinet. And then in many instances, we would accept the recommendations of EOC, which that's hopefully another interview you're doing to understand the dynamics of that group. We, I would then make the decision that. The sole decision maker for every one of those decisions was the chancellor was me in that way. And that's that's the way that the this thing is set up in a statutory way that the unit, the chancellor makes the decisions for the university. It's not even so much the system, but it is the chancellor. There was fairly high level of unanimity amongst the UWs as we closed down. But then we diverge pretty radically how we approach this thing, as we went through the experience and then eventually opened up. We had, I will say this to a great credit to the UW system 00:16:00is that they gave chancellors autonomy to make decisions that were best for their institution. So first and foremost, in my mind, of course, was public safety, then it was, how do we have continuity of operations? How do we, how are we going to achieve a level of remoteness with a faculty that's largely untrained in doing this? How do we provide student support services, student counseling or mental health services to students when they're not on campus? And those are all questions that we were all working very hard on in that interim time. But more than anything, I think one of the main roles I played in this was that as the communicator, that I felt it was important that in order for people to be able to successfully navigate the uncertainty, all of this, we needed, frequent and honest and transparent communication. And so we did develop some 00:17:00new ways of communicating almost overnight, that we hadn't done previously, that we probably would have thought were overboard. And that was something that carried us not only through the pandemic, but I think what is going to carry us well into the future.

GL: What, what are you referring to?

AL: Well, the certainly the level of detail that we were providing in communications to the campus was more than we normally would have done. When we communicate with the campus. It's important for us to keep communications tight and short, that just the pertinent information that are in them. In the case of COVID, you just couldn't do that. There was just way too much information that people needed to understand in order to understand the underpinnings of you will have a decision. So to to the credit of our readers, if you will, maybe they didn't get to the end of them. But there was some long emails, there were some highly technical emails, there were we tried to limit the source of the emails, 00:18:00they either came from myself, or they came from Kurt Leibold. If it was university-wide, occasionally, that came from a Peggy Breister and University Marketing and Communications. That certainly was one, the frequency of it, and then probably the second would be the town hall, the frequent town halls that we had, where I would come on and give University updates COVID updates, in an open it up for questions and answers. And we knew early on that the questions and answers are going to be difficult because they ranged everywhere that there was a divergence of opinions on campus as to what we should be doing. And I applaud people for expressing those opinions. And those, those divergencies, if you will. But at the same time, I've always felt fully supported by this the university in terms of the decisions that I have made, even if people didn't 00:19:00disagree, I didn't agree with them. And so we did spend a lot of time managing private communications between individual employees and the chancellor's office. So that if people could have a say, We respected what it is that they said, we always replied. We never we never, you know, just simply deleted people's, you know, concerns doesn't work that way.

GL: Tell me some of the things that you're hearing, you know, the concerns that the campus community had.

AL: Well, early on, I think there was great a lack of confidence in our ability to go completely remotely. They were people were worried about the students. And of course, that's an easy one. I'd say yes, I'm worried too. I'm very worried. And we have faculty and instructional academic staff who are absolutely superb using technology. And we have others who can barely turn on your computer. And 00:20:00we we love and applaud both. Everybody has value in that people have just different strengths. To the credit of everyone. And I've said this a lot. And now I'll always say that one of the proudest moments of my entire career was watching in that two-week period, people go home, and then by the way, they had their own issues to deal with, if you had kids in school, you know, your own job may be changing, your spouse's job might be changing, you had your own levels of complexity and anxiety. And at that same time, you were doing something that you never thought you'd be doing, by putting your class online or in some type of remote form. Nobody complained. I never got an email that said, you know, this is pointless, why are you making us do this? It was more the case that, you know, I'm really concerned because the kind of work I do with my students involves me being in direct contact with them. And how is this going to work? 00:21:00And, you know, we simply reassure people that you will figure it out, you know, you can do this. And since a large part, people did do it, you know, which again, I'm very proud of the fact that they were able to pivot like that. And I would say the same things about the students, again, everybody, everybody understood the severity and the immediacy of the moment. And, you know, I didn't have a line of people saying, I want my money back. That did come a little bit later. But, you know, in the moment, it didn't, that that's not what people did. They rose to the occasion. And so I was very, very pleased with that.

GL: Yes, you mentioned you, you worked with the provost, John Koker, and who else did you work very closely with? Regarding your COVID response?

AL: Well, it'd be the Cabinet? And I'm going to have to look at my Cabinet picture. My Cabinet changes a bit each each semester. But you know, it was, you 00:22:00know, certainly within here that the Office of the Chancellor which would be a Malissa Bonlender, Alex Hummel, Kate McQuillan, were instrumental in certain signs of running the internal operations of the chancellor's office. The former Vice Chancellors at the time, of course, were Cheryl Green Vice, Chancellor for Student Affairs, John Koker is Provost, Jim Fletcher, as our Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration. And then Bob Roberts is our Vice Chancellor for University Affairs. All of them had exceedingly unique and important contributions to this. Mr. Fletcher, Jim Fletcher, of course, it was about how do we resource this, there was a lot of money moving into the system and through the system. And so Jim was instrumental, I didn't even have to worry about that part of it, Jim was instrumental in making sure that we get what we needed out of out of the system. Bob, by Roberts had a very interesting part in this. We 00:23:00were a university we have, we have a lot of resources, we have great facilities, the city and the county were very interested in us because at the time, we believed that it's going to be like a Wuhan type situation where we would need hundreds and hundreds of rooms for sick people. That's kind of what we were anticipating. And so we had to empty out residence halls. Though at the time, people still had some personal possessions in their rooms. And we had to make ready. It was South Scott, it was it was I believe it was South Scott, to receive at the request of the county, non University, people who might come to this campus and need a place to isolate for that reason. And to come up with that agreement acts not like to Hey guys come on over and put some people in our 00:24:00building. There was a whole lot of legal work that had to be done between the state and the county. In order to make that possible. We had to Department of Health Services got involved, the governor's office got involved. And this was happening all over the system. They were they were trying to they were trying to use university facilities for public good. We went and made a brilliant videography document if you will have all the resources in our College of Nursing, including how many ventilators we have here. We actually do have a two ventilators here on campuses using our nurse anesthetist program. And how many beds do we have? What kinds of provisions do we have on hand in case we were to do a mass emergency response? So that was a level of the planning and discussions that were happening throughout Winnebago county to county, the city and the university. So there was a lot going on.

GL: I had no idea that that was happening. But we were sheltering at home, 00:25:00right? So some, you know, when we've worked first sent home, at what point did you have to decide who were the essential people of the campus?

AL: Right essential people, the first person who was not essential was me, I immediately went home. And because I wanted this, again, serve as an example, we wanted people to go home. And you'd have to ask for the exact number from Kurt. But I would, I would bet between public safety or our police department, and the people in facilities, we may have had 25 to 30 individuals on our campus, from the months of March, through June, there was a very, very small number of people, and that was mainly just to keep up, you know, the mechanicals running. And, you know, obviously, for public safety reasons. I do know, I was aware that people would go in and out of their offices, we asked them to notify us when 00:26:00doing so so that we could go back and the custodial services were active at that time, they were they were about sanitizing buildings. And as a matter of fact, I spent a day over in Scott Hall in preparation for the county use. My wife, Karen and I, we went and worked a day over there helping sanitize rooms. And again, we did that because I wanted to show the custodians that what they did mattered, and that it was important to the university. And it was important to the community. The custodians here are really were continued to be in many ways, the unsung heroes of this in that they think continue to work, and continue to follow through on what they had to do, and again, under very uncertain conditions that we had at the time.

GL: When did you come back to campus full time?

00:27:00

AL: I came back July 1, and made that decision, because I knew that at that point we had begun to to have a second committee working that would be the return return to campus program that we wanted to set up so that we would run and then we will have face to face classes in the fall. What was happening at the system, of course, is that Ray Krause had then announced he was retiring on June 30. We had had a failed search for the system president that spring. And in June, early June, it was announced that the leadership of the Board of Regents this was a Board President Drew Peterson and others approached former Governor Tommy Thompson to come and serve as the Interim President of the system. Governor Thompson is a fourth-term governor. He was the Secretary of Health and 00:28:00Human Services at the federal level level under George W. Bush, and a very popular figure here in Wisconsin, to be sure. Governor Thompson reluctantly accepted the position. And he began his work on July 1, as a matter of fact, so I just felt that was the right time that we needed to start bringing back people to campus. And in this point, we did have cases in in Oshkosh, and they weren't bad yet, but we, you know, our, our COVID impact was probably four or five, four or five months delayed from what it was, say in New York initially. So we started to see in cases of COVID in that point, we were wearing masks, we were observing six-feet separation. So we went about preparing the the campus after that time, it was the again EOC and the return to work. group working they you 00:29:00know, a lot of attention was paid to putting up Plexiglass, putting up dividers, bagging seats and classrooms trying to calculate what we call the COVID density of each classroom. How many people could we put in a classroom and still have to be safe with ventilation and other kinds of things. So all of that work was done that summer and since people were back on campus, I felt it was necessary to be back on campus.

GL: At that point, summer school was still remote, correct? Yes. And then so describe the campus when you were walking around in July.

AL: It was empty, still largely empty. We were still malt the vast majority of people were still working on remotely. Now I do need to say this. At the beginning of May. We instituted a round of furloughs that impacted I should say almost all the employees initially, and what I mean by that is that the faculty contract ran out in mid May, or late May, I should say. And so therefore, we 00:30:00left the faculty essentially unharmed because there was no, that contract had already been enforced. So for instruction, excuse me, for a university staff, academic staff and anybody here who was on unlimited appointment, we instituted two kinds of furloughs, which began on May in May 1. The first was what are called intermittent furloughs, and that's what a lot of people would assume a furlough is where you go from a say, a five-day work week to a four-day work week. And at the time, we were cash strapped, I have to say, we had given back about $5 to $6 million in terms of the of food and, and residence hall rebates that we did with students. And so we were concerned about the long-term financial health of the institution. We were already under a lot of stress prior 00:31:00to COVID, in terms of declining enrollment and the budget cuts that we had to do. So it was a it was a tough time to have this. Come on. So we we were one of maybe seven institutions in the system that employed furloughs, not all of them did. And we employed both the intermittent furlough, which we in that initial tranche of furloughs, we took the maximum number you could take legally, and that would be two furlough days, basically, one furlough day, excuse me, two furlough days a month, two furlough days a month is what you could take, which can really translate to about a 10% reduction in somebody's salary, roughly 20 working days in a month, and you take two away.

GL: So this furlough was directly in response to the monies that were returned to the students?

AL: No, not not if that was a part of it. But it was about the overall health of 00:32:00the institution that we knew that we were most likely gonna take a huge hit in the fall in terms of enrollment. In that we just simply wanted to make sure that we had cash on hand, if you will, in order to manage that.

GL: Would you have done the furlough if we hadn't had the pandemic?

AL: No. We would have not done that. I'm I have furloughs are pretty tough on there. It's pretty destructive. I've been at schools that have been under furlough before, I know this institution has had furloughs in the past. And there's not a lot to be gained unless it's a cash flow situation that we were in. It was not it wasn't a budgetary issue. It was about the amount of cash that we would have on hand. And so that's the main reason why we went into furloughs was because of the a very soft financial situation that we found ourselves as an institution, and great fears about the fall. Because we just simply did not know 00:33:00what students were going to do in the fall. So the other kind of furlough that we employed was were continuous furloughs. So we had a problem there, if there's employees on campus, if you have employees on campus, and you'd take all the employees and take them off campus, there are some employees who can still do their job. And they can do it remotely. There are other employees who cannot. They simply can't, they have to physically be present on campus to do that. But if the campus is essentially vacated, and there's no reason for them, they can't be on campus. We cannot pay them. You can't pay somebody not to work. And so that that was a group of employees, approximately 180 individuals on this campus whom we continuously furloughed from May through July, we're starting to bring them back in August. And so these were individuals that received no paycheck 00:34:00from the institution, I have to be honest, I can't remember the details that would and that if they could take personal time, or whatever else, you'd have to ask somebody else, but they did not get a paycheck in that time period. And that's something that I regret very much and still do to this day in the sense that it tended to impact employees who are tend to be our lower paid employees on the inside, because they're they are oftentimes groups of people who have to be present to work. And so for instance, the very custodians, I was lauding a few minutes ago, were some of those individuals that we simply could not pay. Now, what I need people to remember, and this isn't by no means any kind of a valid atonement for this, of what was happening at the federal level at the time, is that the federal government was adding to unemployment insurance $600 A week And so there were many instances of those 180 people who were making more 00:35:00money off, not working on unemployment, because the state and federal benefit together. And that was in the sweet spot of that particular offering. This, of course, was during the Trump administration. And the administration offered these very, very generous benefits. And I occasionally would run into people in stores, who were out in the community, and never a cross word, people, if I didn't recognize him, sometimes they would recognize me and come up and say hello, and and if, if I didn't know who they were, ask them to introduce themselves. And pretty much what they did, I kind of had a pretty good idea what kind of furlough they were on. And but you know, again, to me, personally, never a cross word. And I really think that's a testament to people's understanding of the situation. Not a single person lost their job. In the end, we brought 00:36:00everybody back. And that's important to know, now, there may have been an individual or two who decided to do something else. And I wish them well. And I hope that they landed on their better on their feet, but not a single we net, we did not intentionally layoff anybody as a result of this. So we started bringing people back in August, because we knew we would need a full contingent of employees in the fall when we were bringing back the students.

GL: So coming into the fall, what percentage of the people who were sent home did come back? And do you have any other people who are still working remotely? Two years later?

AL: That's a good question. Now, and when they say did come back, there's two two meanings to that one of them, of course, they they're still our employees, they came back in that way. And that was near almost 100%. As I had mentioned earlier, we did allow those who could remain off campus to remain off campus if 00:37:00they if they worked. Now, it's really handled by the divisional level. And that was also handled by supervisors. So we asked the supervisors to really step up and to make sure that everybody who might be in their direct report was, was in fact, doing the work that was necessary to be successful. So yes, there were quite a few people who continue to work off campus. Now that was in August going into September COVID. In in August, really started to spike here in Winnebago County, this is August 2020. really started to move up and we were in daily, if not twice, daily contact with Winnebago County Health Department. And they're, you know, I gotta be honest, the early days with the health department was a little bit bumpy. I'm having a brain moment here. I can't remember the Director of the Health Department. That'll come to me in a bit. But some of the the other 00:38:00folks that the subordinates at the health department were pretty critical of us. We had a reluctant faculty and staff in and out August, they were very concerned about the safety. The one thing you have to realize, of course, when on July one, when Tommy Thompson came in, by July 10, he simply said, we are going to have all of our campuses open in the fall end the story, and to Governor Thompson's credit, he went out and secured resources to make that possible, which were 10s and 10s of millions of dollars from the federal government that Wisconsin was first in line for we were first in line in this country when it came to the rapid tests, for instance, and that was Governor Thompson. Others a lot of really good things that happen as a result, very reluctant faculty at a 00:39:00time. But people did not want to come back full time. So it took us convincing and there is a there is a very powerful moment. My colleague and good friend at Advocate Aurora Medical Center here in in Oshkosh, his name is John Newman, and he's the CEO and chief surgeon there. And John and I are neighbors. Interestingly enough, we live a few houses apart and you know, we had socially and then responsibly had socialize that summer. Remember that that was the summer of loneliness. Right? We all had to be by ourselves. And John, in talking to Dr. Newman, it became very apparent to me that if other people were to hear what he had to say that that would be very reassuring. And so I invited Dr. Newman to give no fewer than two town halls. They were completely devoted to 00:40:00him, where he could make some preliminary statements about how we need what we how we need to be thinking about COVID? And then answer questions. And, boy, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive that when he when he did that, and he was able to answer a lot of people's concerns, he had sort of a very, shucks, you know, kind of way about him, it was he was not an alarmist person at all. And, and the one thing that people in the medical field, my, my wife, Karen, of course, is in the medical field, she's a registered nurse. And and this was a part of all of this response is that when things really got rocking and rolling later, beyond that September into the year, health professionals didn't get sick, or they certainly didn't get sick at work, they got sick at someone else's house, they got sick at birthday parties, like everybody else did. They didn't get sick managing patients. And what that told them is that there you could, you 00:41:00could interact with one another in a place where COVID existed and not get sick. And it was just simply about how you know the personal protection equipment, you wear the PPE and in your hand washing and distancing. So he was really pivotal. Matter of fact, he was also an advisor to our EOC in terms of our plan, and highly respected in that way. So it took a lot to bring us back, It took a lot of cajoling there were faculty, we did give the option for some faculty to remain away, they could choose to teach remotely. And there were some who chose most wanted to come back. Most wanted to be a part of it, and did.

GL: You know, I want to jump back a little bit. You talked about some of the challenges. But were there some specific challenges that you faced, at the very beginning of COVID? Through the first, you know, the first 20 to the end of 00:42:002020? What were you What would you say your biggest challenges were at that time.

AL: The biggest challenge, I think, I think was again, more of the moral or values based leadership in the sense that I had to convince people to come back and be a part of we had to convince the students that it was safe. And we had to, and we had to back it up. It's, you can't just, you can't just do this and then have it all fall apart. So there was a great deal of risk involved. And it would have been the Cal State system, for instance, just simply went online for a year. You know, they just decided we're not coming back in the fall. And that's certainly one decision you could make. Governor Thompson and I would tend to agree with him didn't believe that was the right course of action for Wisconsin. And so writing that big of a check that, you know, we're going to be 00:43:00open, and we're going to know how to manage this was a huge weight, to be perfectly honest. And a knowing and understanding that if I'm wrong, and a lot of other people would be wrong to if I'm wrong, that, you know, I could I could be the person who is is responsible for the death of other people, the deaths of other people. And that's something that it certainly did weigh in on me. And at the time, in September of 2020. That's when we really spiked. It was a big spike. In at that point. We were testing a hundreds of students a day. And we had entered into agreement with Prevea Healthcare out of out of Green Bay. This was a an arrangement that was put together by Governor Thompson working with Dr. Ashok Rai, who's the president of Prevea. And they came in and we set up all the 00:44:00hall on the the gymnasium and Albee Hall as our testing center and testing hundreds of students and then we had these residence halls that we used for isolation if you were sick or quarantine if you were exposed. And we used the...help me now, we're having a freeze here, which one was it?

GL: Gruenhagen?

AL: Not Gruenhagen, it was the first one

GL: Webster

AL: Webster Thank you. The reason why I'm confused and sometimes I call it Watson because that was a place I used to work at. But Webster Hall was a residence hall that we had that was empty at the time. We have an offline essentially to do some renovations to it here in the next few years. We began to fill that up with sick people in September. There was a kind of an interesting 00:45:00moment that happened. We were, you gotta remember, we were all making this up as we went. There was nothing like this ever happen. So now we were quarantining and isolating people on our own campus, and how do you take care of people? Now we had the health, the Student Health Center, that their main function was to do that daily check in on each of the students to make sure that they were doing okay, we wanted to make sure that they were progressing in a normal way in in with the virus, the vast majority of cases that we saw on this campus, matter of fact, almost all of them were pretty mild. The students may have lost their sense of smell, they may have lost their sense of taste, they may feel lousy, like to have the flu, but to my knowledge that we didn't have a single student, except one that was hospitalized because of COVID. During this entire two years, 00:46:00there was my understanding, there was a student who, when they moved off campus, they left the state and then they were hospitalized in another state, from COVID they had received in that state that they contracted COVID in a different state. But other than that, you know, we we were responsible for these young people. And so how do you feed them? How do you feed people who you really can't come into contact with. And so I my hat's off to Aladdin, our food service provider. They did a hell of a job in terms of packaging meals, both frozen meals that could be thawed in a micro, microwave but also fresh food, sandwiches, other things like that. There's a funny story that I have to say I, I complained a little bit to some of the staff here because what that facility needed was a concierge. They needed someone that was going to be in the front desk of the place that to answer student concerns. Also, quite frankly, to monitor the front 00:47:00door of the place to make sure. The way that residence halls are staffed or staffed almost exclusively by CA's or student employees. And there weren't a lot of students who wanted to volunteer to go work in the COVID dorm, as you can imagine. So out of a little bit about a little bit of frustration, I had trouble getting coverage for that. I went down there and spent three days manning the front desk at at this place. Most of the students who walked in had no idea who I was. A few recognize me as the chancellor. But that's it unless I'm wearing a suit, a suit and tie people I can walk through this campus and wearing jeans and a T shirt. Nobody would know who I am. It's pretty funny actually, some of what you wear really is a sort of defines who you are. So I did finally get the attention of Student Affairs, and that they were able to find students to come 00:48:00over and do that. But we were. There's a wonderful man named Mark Nyland, who runs Gruenhagen. Mark was responsible for also taking care of these students over in Webster bringing them toiletries, toothpaste, whatever it is, they needed. we went and got and had a held out.

GL: So you actually worked at the front desk at in Webster or Gruen...

AL: At Webster, when no need in Gruenhagen because there's a professional staff over there.

GL: Okay, And then how long were you there? I mean, what what did you actually do?

AL: I was there for about six hours a day. And I just greeted people at the door. I've watched people come in and out, I might ask him, How are you feeling today? I wore an N 95 mask at the time. We were still we just in cloth masks and and I would go into the food area just to see if that was reasonable. And I remember there was a bunch of furniture was piled up in the lobby that was taking up a lot of room and, and one of the nice things about being Chancellor 00:49:00is that I can make a phone call and something happens almost immediately. It is a power I will miss very, very much after I'm not Chancellor, but to make a phone call and then have guy show up and clean out a lobby was was pretty good. So you know, like I say I think the students were taken. We took remarkable care of the students, and that were there for some time. And we didn't make the decision to move them to Gruenhagan about three or four months into this simply because we were much in a much better place to support them in Gruenhagen than we were in Webster,

GL: I want to get back to the Webster What do you do you recall when that took place that you were working there?

AL: Yeah, it was at the height. It was in the middle of September.

GL: What was your shift?

AL: It was afternoons. I took a picture of myself. I worked also weekend day. I'm counting as part of that. So I was able to go in, and it did have the 00:50:00desired effect that that there were people that were like, What the hell is the chancellor doing there? And I know one of my vice chancellors was upset because he didn't want to see me contract COVID Certainly not unnecessarily. And and I'm, you know, when you protect yourself against COVID, it's almost impossible to get COVID. You know, and that's, it's when you let your guard down, is when it happens.

GL: So you did this for again, tell me again, why did you decide to do this?

AL: I did it because I just I couldn't, I guess, my previous comment notwithstanding, I could not get the attention of residence hall staff to, to man that. And so it's one of these things that just wasn't happening in a timely manner. And so I just felt that we shouldn't have a residence hall filled with sick people and not have, you know, a person that was over there, manning the desk. And it did happen in time. And again, it was just one of these things 00:51:00where we were moving so quickly at the time, this was within the first week of the residence hall opening. And, you know, so when you do things like that, holes are created, or they you the holes appear in your plan, and then you've got to figure out how to fill them.

GL: Okay, let's move on a little bit to the, you know, you talked about the costs of the pandemic. I mean, what are the costs, financial costs? That, you know, the everybody suffered, right, and we able to make that make up that shortfall or are we still under?

AL: No. So what happened with our projections, as we were looking, we were moving into the fall, and the enrollment projections were looking terrible. They were looking terrible. We had to make, it's not only our first year class we had to worry about, it's also how many students are going to come back. And so we had a lot of students who, understandably, didn't thrive in the remote 00:52:00environment. And now that the the academic disqualification question we could manage, and we have control over that. So we were far more accommodating with people who had done poorly, as long as there could be a reason subscribed to it, than just kicking them out of school because they were failing. So we didn't do that. And we seldom ever do that. We, we want to do everything we can to help students succeed here and not kick them out. So we were looking at having a 12 to 13% reduction in overall enrollment for the fall, which is catastrophic. Catastrophic. There's no way to say it either was now the beast to be completely transparent. We've had that kind of reduction over five years, probably even a 00:53:00little greater than that. Which, if you look back in history at the institution, there was a time in the 70s. And about 72, 73, 1972, 1973. Right as President Giles was, was about to retire, that there was a big step off because of the end of the of student deferment and the Vietnam draft, and the end of the war caused a precipitous decline. And that was not nearly as much as what we've experienced over five years, or even in this one shot that could have happened. How do you plan for a 12% reduction in enrollment. And so part of that was the money that we had saved from the the furloughs, as a part of that strategy at our part, of course, was just unbelievably tightening our belts. And again, we didn't lay off a single individual. But there were other things that we could do. And then 00:54:00also, moving into that period, we had been through a period of great austerity, where we had started to build our reserves again. So we, we kind of piecemeal all the way to survive that kind of a punch and still not have it impact the lives of our employees or the students, which would be a real testament. Well, in the end, we were 5%, down. We were 5%, down, not 12% down. And as a result, we seem to have had an immediate surplus of because we were counting on something much, much more dire. So that really is the piece that took us well beyond what our goals were going to be in stabilizing the financial situation of the institution to this day. As a matter of fact, we are now entering into our 00:55:00second consecutive year of no budget cuts in and this is during the the middle of COVID. And into going out of COVID. I'll talk about the financial the federal money in a minute. I think that's an important piece to all this. That's that's been helpful. But not it's it was not necessary for us to be financially solvent to have the federal money, but it certainly has helped a lot. So there's something called a composite financial index, which is essentially the credit score of an institution. And it's, it's, every nonprofit has one big nonprofit, like an educational institution, it ranges from minus four to 10. For accreditation reasons, with HLC, you want to be above 1.1 on that ratio. And when I came, it was in the mid twos, if you will, but then we had five successive years of enrollment losses, plus the foundation litigation, which 00:56:00then took a big chunk of assets off our books, because the foundation was no longer being counted. And we ended up into negative territory on CFI, which is a really tough place to be with their accreditation, because they, they worry about the financial stability. We're now almost two again, and as a result of the hard work of everybody on this campus over the last five years, so that just sort of a sidebar in that.

GL: I've got to jump back. Yeah, I got a Do you want to take a break? Or do you want to

AL: know, go ahead.

GL: Okay. You know, what? I skipped this part when we're talking about the EOC. You know, you spoke about, you know, having Chief Leibold being that being in charge of this task force. And for somebody from the outside looking, and I'm like, why would you have a law enforcement officer in charge of a task force that's dealing with a virus?

AL: Right. A good question. And Kim Langolf as a name I've got to talk about too 00:57:00in this. Why Chief Leibold? Well, Kurt Leibold came to us he was an assistant chief of police, for the Milwaukee to chief police department, and which is a big agency they have 1000 or more cops, you know, they have a lot of cops there. And he was certainly had run incident commands he had run their EOC over this often on over the years. He came to us with an outmatched outsized set of experiences compared to what he was inheriting in terms of a police department of the eight sworn police officers that we have here. innovator in the sense that he really did install the, the concept of community policing with our police department. And I think it's really paid dividends with students here. So he's been a remarkable leader here, when this all started, and you know, I would 00:58:00say first started with the norovirus. The chief was definitely involved in that, but wasn't the main focus that was, again, run by Vice Chancellor Cheryl Green. When this first started, it became obvious to me that the only unit that could work on this full time and in and be a part of this EOC was the police department. It led by Chief Leibold. So chief we had just constructed a a room in the basement of Radford Hall, if you haven't seen it, you need to see it. That serves as sort of the the command center, if you will, for the for the EOC in that the idea is that all the information streams into one place, and then they would make sense of it. So the fact that the chief had a lot of experience with large scale incident commands in Milwaukee, I think made him a natural for this. There is a method if you will, to police work my I have an older brother, 00:59:00who is a policeman. He's been assistant chief, and it's been a lot of different things in another city. And I kind of understand the sense of organization, the hierarchy, the chain of command, the way that things are done, and I just felt no matter of fact, we were the only school in the system that responded in this way. Normally was somebody completely far far away from the police department. They would with the ran the the response. So I'm quite proud of that. I'm quite proud of the fact that the chief had did and has done and continues to do is such an excellent job.

GL: Did anyone ever bring up that, you know, why not put somebody in the medical field or in the science field in charge of something that it's a virus. It's not a criminal. It's not a

AL: Well, you know, understanding the virus is is one thing and we do Have a very, a great segue, great person in that in Kim Langolf, who was our director 01:00:00of grants and contracts here at the campus, and was pulled into EOC, essentially to be kind of a scribe, if you will. Well, Kim has a master's degree in molecular biology and knew and understood how viruses worked and knew and understood how testing worked. What it was the testing, and also the, the statistics that go along with that. And so really, it was manna from heaven, that not only did we have this person who knew knew how to run emergency systems. And that's the difference I'm going to I'm going to land on. We also had a person who was very knowledgeable about the science. And yes, could we have gone over to department biology and selected someone there. But you know, those are individuals who all have full time jobs. And they did there were times 01:01:00when their expertise was important. But in terms of being able to assign somebody full time to this, both Kurt and Kim were were indispensable. So why why did we pick? Yeah, to me, this is more than just about the science. It was about how do you run something? So we needed I needed a person who had the experience of running a response, as opposed to, and we needed to have the content experts come in and provide the information necessary to you know, on the subject matter.

GL: Okay. All right. And then there was a couple of things that I that I skipped over which he said earlier that before the pandemic that we were 81%, face-to-face instruction and, and 19% remote, what is it now,

AL: Unfortunately, it's back to about the same, which I think is a lost opportunity. I would like to see the a nicer mixture of online versus, versus 01:02:00face to face, to be honest, that we were responding to a directive from the system that the system wanted us north of 80%. Online. When it came to 2001, not the fall of 2000. But the fall of 2001. They wanted to project a greater sense of normalcy across the system in order to do that. And so we were sort of already there. So just going back to normal patterns would would would take us to where we needed to be.

GL: I mean, so. So we're back to what we were before. Yeah. Okay. Do you see that? Or do you want this campus to grow on on the hybrid modalities?

AL: I do? I do, we we still are and will continue to be a very traditional residential, liberal arts campus and university, there's no doubt about that. That's not where the growth in our students will come from a growth in our 01:03:00students will come from students who have had some college and then had been interrupted by life. So the non traditional students, adult, we all call them adult learners, though all of our students are adults, by the way. You know, it's, that's the market we need to go after. And of course, it's hard for them to show up Monday, Wednesday, Friday, from 10am to 11, for a class when they have a job. And what this institution needs to continue to do is get better at providing alternative modalities to them that type of learner. In, in a lot of ways, get back to where we used to be, you know, we used to do weekend classes, we used to do a lot more evening classes. And we've kind of fallen in more with the traditional mode, simply because that's kind of been our bread and butter for 150 years for the on campus students. So yes, we must diversify in order to grow this institution. And I know the provost is doing just that.

01:04:00

GL: And how has your work the way you do your work changed during the last two years?

AL: Well, a big part of it went away, which was sad and unfortunate. And the part I really enjoy, and that is the part where you're meeting face-to-face, with community people with alumni, but business leaders. So much of that was shut down fundraising a lot. We did some remote fundraising, and we did what we could. But you you simply have to be there and put in the time and in the eff, efforts necessary to build relationships across any of those areas that I had mentioned. And the COVID sort of prevented us from doing that, you know, that people just weren't going to be interested in getting together in order to do that. The other big part of it was this is that we had a mask mandate for almost the entire time of COVID Here on our campus, and when I was out in the community 01:05:00and mask mandates came and went in the community, I wore a mask all the time, even if I wasn't required to simply because that was what I was requiring of the people at the university. So sometimes I look like an odd duck, I might show up to a Rotary meeting. And there might be three of us in the room wearing masks when the others are unmasked. And I always felt good about that decision. And when I would get up to talk, you know, I presented Rotary, I never took my mask off. And, you know, I always kind of made a joke about it, saying, hey, you know, somebody's going to take a picture, and then I'm going to be in trouble. If I'm not wearing my mask, so that was a big part of it was the external relations. I missed the students, of course, all the activity, and there's a reason why you're on a college campus are all the things that happen outside of the classroom, a lot of that was shut down, during COVID. So now we're just getting back to it. Now in this semester, the mask mandate has now been 01:06:00completely lifted as of the 18th, of March. And we hope to hold that status certainly for the rest of the semester, and then of course, into next fall. But now we're getting back to what we used to do. And that is the real celebration of student accomplishment, and, and interacting with one another.

GL: I'm going to jump back a little bit in the fall of 2021. The vaccines were readily available, and what how did the decision come about to not only, you know, offer the vaccine to our campus community, but to the community at large?

AL: Yes, so it was a no brainer for ours. As a matter of fact, it was in March of 21, when I got my first vaccination over at the Student Health Center. And three weeks later, got the second. And we started offering those and so that that was great. We were I know, our faculty and staff, for the for the most part 01:07:00really stepped up early and wanted to do that students did too. It was, interestingly enough, it was the Department of Health and Human Services at the federal level, who approached Tommy Thompson, and said, if we gave you money, would you open public vaccination centers. And Tommy said, of course, the governor Thompson said, of course. So he made that clear that we want to know who was interested in doing that. And I'm always that guy in the front row who's going to volunteer for almost anything. I like to be, you know, upfront about these kinds of things. And so any innovation that we did with COVID in the UW system, generally speaking, Oshkosh was upfront, up to an including the initial adoption of the rapid tests, the antigen testing. I felt in talking to Kim Langolf, we felt that there was a real place for them in our overall strategy, 01:08:00if you use them in a serial testing manner, or in just a massive testing, you know, as in terms of survey testing, background testing, then they could they could have some use. So what was wrong with the antigen test is that when an antigen tests says you're positive, you're almost 100% Positive. But when it says you're negative, it's wrong about 50% of the time. So just knowing that this has value. So when getting back to the vaccinations when we volunteered to do this to open a community testing and vaccination we did testing first and in vaccination. I called John Newman again from Aurora and I said we need a partner to do this. We need a hospital and Prevea was helping us with the testing. But they were not that interested in helping us with the vaccinations because they were really frying their own fish up in the Green Bay area. So John Newman said 01:09:00absolutely and and we went about establishing a partnership where we use the Culver Center as the location. And we used Advocate Aurora, of course, came in and provided much of the labor though we did have some federal workers that came in also was a contractor that came in to help us as well, I'll never forget, they bolted a large chain link cage, to the center of the ballroom. And that's where the COVID freezers were kept. You've seen the vaccination freezers were kept. And they were under lock and key because there was a much trumpeted occurrence of a medical employee sabotaging vaccine down in Milwaukee, just prior to that, so we had to make sure everything was under lock and key. But yeah, it was that that was, when we started the vaccinations, of course, Governor Evers came to open that center. And then, of course, a few months 01:10:00before that, when we were being acknowledged by the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services at the federal level, as being an exemplar when it came to testing, community testing, and testing our own, we had a verge in front of, excuse me, a visit from a Jerome Adams, who was the Surgeon General in the United States. That's a great picture of him there. So we get a lot of accolades for this.

GL: Again, I'm gonna jump back a little bit, during in the fall of 2020, when we were open, we're, um, were there in concerns that we may have to shut down again, then did other campuses shut down during that, that semester?

AL: Several other campuses went virtual, but didn't vacate the campuses. And they did it for a week or two weeks, like Madison did, that they required all of their residence hall people to essentially stay in the residence halls. And 01:11:00that's when you saw those famous pictures of people spelling out words and windows of residence halls and say, Help, and so on, so forth. We never did that. We didn't do that in I gotta tell you, that was a real white knuckle moment for me watching in mid September of 20, our COVID Count rise to where we were over 120 130 cases a day. And, you know, there was, there was we needed to, I needed to be really steady and steely about it to be perfectly honest and not react, you know, like just sending everybody home. the other, it became apparent to us that sending everybody home also would be terribly irresponsible, because you're sending a lot of sick people out into their own communities, and it only would add to the spread. So we knew that the only way through this was to go through it. And sure enough as every Gaussian function will demonstrate that 01:12:00there was a receding, if you will, of the cases in a somewhat symmetrical way, as the rising. And within two to three weeks, we were down to a more manageable 6, 7, 8 cases a day that we were seeing, but it was hundreds of cases there for a couple of days. And that was that was pretty scary. I have to admit,

GL: How were you sleeping at that time?

AL: I can't. I can't exactly remember. But there were. It was a time of great anxiety. I will say that. And again. We we held the line in the sense that there were people on campus who were saying, wait a minute, you know, this is maybe this isn't what we thought it would be maybe this is too much. And we were saying, you know, we we still believe everybody is safe. We can still say with 01:13:00great certainty that we don't believe that anybody who was inside a classroom has contracted COVID. These were students that were wearing masks on campus one day and then going out and partying in the in the community the second day, you know, so there were there were still reasonable explanations as to why the numbers were so high that students really had just started coming back to college and congregating and that was the that was really what was driving it. So we survived that and then moving into 2021 January 2021. People were convinced that we were going to have another huge spike in February when everybody came back to campus. And that spike never materialized and that was just but that was really before the The vaccines were available, but it just simply didn't materialize. The second big spike.

GL: So, um, how normal Do you feel we are, you know, at this time? I mean, do 01:14:00you feel this is normal now? Or are we getting there or what needs to happen for us to be back to normal?

AL: Well, in order for us to be back to normal, I would like to see nothing happening in Europe and China when it comes to COVID, but as long as there are severe outbreaks of COVID, as there are today, in parts of Europe, in parts of China, I am an I've always got this hanging over my head, when will the next round of masks be? I think that we'll get clear of this semester we're doing this year now in March of 2022, I think we'll get through May, I think it's quite likely, or it's possible, certainly not likely, but possible COVID returns to our shores, this, this BA.2 variant of Omicron is supposed to be incredibly 30 times more, very contagious, which is hard to imagine. But at the same time, 01:15:00as much milder, you know, when it gets people sick, and so this may be the last gasp of the endemic nature of you will have this virus, or it's retooling someplace to be even worse. So what always impacts me is that, you know, I'm always I'm always worried about first and foremost public safety, then I'm worried about enrollment. And I just don't want anything to happen between now and the beginning of the fall, that's going to adversely impact our enrollment. And being back in masks might just do that, that some students will just simply defer college once again, they don't want to do that. And so that's something I do give a great deal of thought about. And we do a little contingency planning on it here at the institution.

GL: Knowing what you know, now, what would you have done differently in regards to your COVID response?

01:16:00

AL: I would have never emptied out the residence halls in March of 2020. That turned out to be a mistake, but not a mistake, but it was unnecessary. And it put a lot of students in a very difficult position. What people tend to forget, is not all of our students come from loving, nurturing households. And they can go back to them that some of our students, quite frankly found themselves somewhat homeless, associated with this and or at least scrambling to find someplace to live. And in the end, it turned out to be unnecessary. But I will say at the time, we all have to remember what the mindset was. We closed university campuses across this campus across this country, essentially, with no COVID cases on these campuses. University of Washington at the time they close my recollection serves, they didn't have a single COVID case. They just knew 01:17:00what was coming.

GL: So you were talking you're getting is you're saying that you will not have sent the students home.

AL: I wouldn't have sent the residence hall students home, I would have said, "You're welcome to live here or you can choose to go home," but I wouldn't have closed the halls. And that way people can remain. Knowing if we knew then what we knew. Later on, we learned we learned we can actually exist in this environment. There may have been never, never really a need to go to vacate the campuses in the first place. But again, we didn't know. We didn't know the nature of the virus was killing? Well, to be honest, I'm not sure how many people are killed in Wuhan, China, it's those is never independently confirmed. But it certainly seemed to be killing a lot of people in Europe. It was killing a lot of people in New York. And you know, if you look at the profile that people was killing, it was not really in the sweet spot of our students. But it was our faculty and staff. And you know, we have these are older folks. I will 01:18:00say this. I was at the system office one time we did an all day retreat there. Governor Thompson was there. And he brought in Dr. Deborah Birx. And that'll be a name that people will remember she was the chief COVID response officer for President Trump. And she came to visit us and talk to us as as a group. And one of the things that we all kind of scratched our heads about was the level of compliance that we got from the students on our campuses was high. Yes, we had student code of conduct violations and yes, the Dean of Students Office was busy, busy, but for the most part, if you ask faculty and staff, instructional staff, they would say yeah, the students are wearing their masks in the class. Now maybe they're not always showing up to class, but they're wearing their masks. And she had a theory about that which I actually, I actually believed in. And that is that young people did not want to get faculty and staff sick, that 01:19:00they they were protecting us by by wearing masks so that they wouldn't transmit the virus to people who were, who are going to be more vulnerable. And I think that's nice. And I like to believe that, that students actually try to do the right thing certainly early on this because we just didn't know.

GL: If you have to pinpoint things that you're incredibly proud of, regarding the COVID response of the university, what would you say?

AL: I'm certainly proud of the faculty and staff, as I had mentioned before, in terms of pivoting so quickly, on on student learning, I'm very proud of our EOC. Those all those employees across the institution whom we asked to do completely different jobs, I always tend to land on athletics on this, you know, course, we didn't play NCAA athletics there for a few semesters, we had all of these 01:20:00employees that needed something else to do, or else we were going to actually many of them were continuously furloughed. But even into the fall when the students came back, no sports, I didn't want to furlough these guys. And at the same time we needed, we needed help, we needed help with a contact tracing, we needed help with disease investigation, we needed help running the testing center. And these athletic coaches, for instance, assistant coaches, and others, they stepped up and a certain part of their day was assigned to these other duties. And so I'm very proud of that. I'm very proud of the fact that we had people who were willing to do that I'm very proud of certainly the the senior leaders at the institution of every single day was a carefully crafted experience or how we're going to get through this week. And even though EOC was doing their job, we had our job to do as well. So there was a lot to be proud of 01:21:00this institution, people just doing their job. And doing it well, either whether that's remotely or in somehow impacted greatly by what it is that we were all dealing with. So that was those were things that really made me proud. Certainly the accolades that we got from the CDC, from the system, from the federal government as a whole. And the community, I think we're, we're very fitting and at the same time, very appreciated by this institution. So that was another point of pride.

GL: So what has living and and and working during the time COVID has taught you about yourself?

AL: Well, I think that human beings have almost a inexhaustible capacity for 01:22:00just dealing with very difficult situations. Now. I'm not going to equate what we went through what with what a lot of people go through, in either their daily lives, which can be quite traumatic. Or even say, our friends right now, in Ukraine, having been invaded by the So, excuse me, by the by Russia, there are definitely scale to there's definitely a scale to this. But we have, we do have a pretty amazing capacity to function under difficult times, and to use initiative and curiosity in order to solve problems in in real time, the amount of change that happened during this period of time, would not have occurred over 100 years, if we didn't have the unfortunate stimulus of having a pandemic, the fact that everybody went remote. And that, you know, the fact that we all 01:23:00adapted in different ways. We did it because we had to. And I think that was something that I certainly hope I don't forget, I have a feeling that once this pandemic kind of subsides and there'll be something else that comes along, I'm sure in the future, that we probably that that instinct, that ability is going to go dormant. And then we're going to return to our normal lives of whatever they may be. And then but that capacity is always there when we need to tap into it.

GL: I'm just going to take a ask you a few more questions about your, your private life if that's okay with you.

AL: I do need to talk to you about the federal money.

GL: Okay, go ahead.

AL: That's okay. That's important in this. Both the Trump administration and the Biden administration both put billions, if not trillions into this response. Across the country in higher education was a very generous recipient of that. 01:24:00There are projections from the from the system that we may have lost $300, $400 million as a system that are subscribed to COVID losses. Here at UW Oshkosh, we believe we lost in the neighborhood of $16, possibly $17 million of experienced those losses either through, justifiably suppressed enrollment, which we can subscribe to COVID, the payouts or the other kinds of expenses we had in terms of managing this. What I want to make very clear is what money did we get and un How did we use it, because I think that's important for the, for the future. This institution received almost $40 million, which sounds like a lot, and it is a lot. $20 million of that was designated by both the Trump administration and 01:25:00Biden administration. It's amazing how similar the two administrations have been, in terms of how the money flowed to be pushed out directly to students. So what does that mean? That means that we, we have a list of all Pell eligible students, and then also students beyond that, that, that have a certain expected family contribution due to their FAFSA form. We know who they are. And we, I would say maybe six times in the last two years, in a matter of fact, we're just completing the last time now. We have pushed money out to students, without their without them asking for it. So in any awards might anyway range anywhere from say $900 to maybe $1500? Or even more, you'd have to ask our friends in financial aid, or actually, Dr. Aggie Hanni was the one who orchestrated all that. So students received money from the federal government through the 01:26:00university, and that's money that we could not touch. We couldn't divert it. We couldn't pay off your your delinquent bursar's bill we couldn't, we couldn't even suggest you use it for school. We simply gave it to you. It was really a mechanism to stimulate the economy, certainly for with younger people in order to do that. So we did honor that, of course. And you know, oftentimes students will say, Well, I think I should have gotten money back because I didn't get this experience I deserved My response is you probably did, you probably did. And it was the funny part about it was this is that we would notify them by email. They were getting a this payout from HERF, or from American Relief Act. And they would always say, this is spam. We have a hard we had a hard time getting students to respond to emails, because I just thought it was spam, 01:27:00because it was giving you free money, money they weren't expecting. So we actually still are chasing some students who have simply not responded back yet. To make sure that's paid out.

GL: How much of the $20 million have you paid out?

AL: Almost all of it now, I think it's all now. Yeah, over. So that started in really the summer of 20. And the Trump administration did a first round of it. And then the Biden administration did another round of it. Now the other $20 million did, in fact, come to the institution and HERF funds. And so we use that to offset very real expenses that we must be able to justify in an audit, you know, there's this, there are, there's real accountability measures with how we use this money. We do have some funds that are leftover of which we have until 2026 to spend down on COVID related activities, and then those are prescribed by 01:28:00the federal government as to what they may be. Some of that may end up in projects around campus to improve ventilation to improve sort of, you know, some facilities improvements that were related to COVID. Some of it, we're not done yet. And so, you know, we want to keep that money, you know, keep our powder dry in case in fact, we have to start using funds again, for that reason, so we'll be holding on to some of it until the last moment.

GL: To put it in perspective what is our budget annual budget?

AL: Right, it's a it's a complicated question. And the reason is, there's really sort of two numbers you need to worry about. One is the total budget of the institution is about $240 million a year. But that's not we can't budget all of that. What's budgetable to us is approximately $110, $115 million a year. So of that $55 million of that is tuition. And then we get about $40 to 45 is a state 01:29:00allocation. And then the rest is made up through program revenue. So a $20 million is a significant percentage of that. And it certainly was very helpful. And there were other expenses that we were actually were compensated or offset by the system itself, the system paid bills, as opposed to having us pay bills on certain other kinds of activity. So we felt in the end, that the money that was spent on this was, was certainly justified and at the same time was well, well worth the effort.

GL: the money that was received that did not like pay for the vaccines, or the testings or anything like that?

AL: That was paid for by the system. Now, there were certain personnel that we hired, that was paid for by us. So the how the bills actually shook out in the end, of course, would be a question for Vice Chancellor Fletcher. But we know 01:30:00that we are still are in possession of a small amount of was called Herf money at the time, which we're required to spend by 2026. But I was at a system meeting yesterday where the CBO for the system said that for the most parts, the institutions have largely spent down their money.

GL: So okay, all right.

AL: That's the end of that.

GL: Okay. Sounds good. Um, just just a few more questions. Sure. You know, the we were sent home a week before spring break of 2020. And how did you spend that? That time?

AL: Yeah, so Well, I certainly, I had kind of a home office already kind of set up. But you know, I prefer to work at work. And when I'm at home at home, so I had to, I had to sort of upgrade that. And I was using a dining room chair for a 01:31:00long time to as the seating and in and encountered some pretty intense back problems. And I realized that that that wasn't going to work. And so I did go into work. And I have since returned it. So everybody knows, I went and got my chair that I use at my office, which was this big office chair, which was much better. So that what you found in COVID. And I think all of us were guilty of this is you're sitting way too long. You and you didn't even you might have three meetings, back to back in three and a half hour later, as you realize you haven't gotten up. And you know, so that was a problem of kind of moving around. Still a lot of meetings on Zoom, or Zoom, excuse me, Teams was our internal platform of preferences, Microsoft Teams. You know, the ice, I work from home, and I work at that desk. And I certainly would have anywhere from eight to 11 01:32:00meetings a day, as I normally do. I didn't have events that was a little different than I used to have. But I would have a lot of meetings as usual. And then there were times sorted in between that have to sort of walk away. Yes, I gained about 20 pounds, as it seemed like everybody did, because my refrigerator is about 15 feet from where I was working. So I managed to find that a lot. I completely reimagined my relationship with my dog. And pets were funny, I saw a cartoon early on when there was a board room with a bunch of dogs around it and and the dogs of the dog, the leader dog was saying so it's settled up. Our plan has worked. We now have our owners at home full time. And then there's one cat in the audience who says we were not consulted about this. I love that cartoon. And so my cat. Certainly, you know, he's actually a very sociable animal anyway, 01:33:00so I don't think he might need but the dog certainly loved that in, I would go on multiple walks a day, I had about a 15 minute walk, I would go on and always take the dog. So she was in Nirvana. This is Ellie, because she just never gotten that kind of attention. before. I had a few hobbies that I'll talk about. One of them is I played a saxophone. And I brought my horn down and set it up near the computer so that if I had a 15 minute break in where I just didn't want to do email or anything else, I pick up my horn and play. And I got to be reasonably proficient again, I have to say with that. And then well, I'll just say this For posterity sake, I took up the the practice of origami. And I say this with some trepidation only because it does smack a bit of a cultural 01:34:00appropriation. That, but I do remember it as a kid that I we'd make cranes and that kind of thing. And so I made quite a few origami birds of the number of which I'm supposed to keep secret because it is a rather large number that when people would be concerned about my mental health, I think if they knew how many birds I might have made, but this was always sort of in between distractions of what you were doing, I put in full days, up until five o'clock, my spouse would come home from her work at five o'clock, and would find me at the desk. And that's where she left me and when she went to work in the morning.

GL: And he mentioned your spouse, and your your your dog and your cat. Who else were you living with at that time?

AL: Welll, it was my wife, Karen and I, of course, live here on Oshkosh. And we we have three adult children and two grandchildren, in Atlanta, Georgia. And I 01:35:00would just say this. I think goodness, that I'm of a generation that had young children 25 years ago. And I have nothing but admiration and respect for young people who had their own jobs and careers to work through dealing with COVID. And then overnight became school teachers. My two grandchildren at the time, were six and four, on a four year old program, and of course, six as your you are in the nursery school before kindergarten. And then now they're eight and six. And much of the last two years has been either online or they're certainly at school in mass, which is which is a better alternative. But both of their parents, my daughter and her spouse, both worked from home, actually, my 01:36:00daughter lost her job as a result of COVID. She was in the in the flower arrangement business. And so they were greatly impacted. And I have two other children who are single, who were, to a lesser extent, impacted. My son, Scott, more or less keeps to himself anyway. So I don't know if he really noticed there was a pandemic. To be honest, I'd say that he worked from home, and my youngest daughter Madeline, was impacted in terms of her work life and the things that she could be doing. So we didn't see them for a long time, we did have them drive up at one point during the pandemic. And I know, this is the exact conditions that you would want to create to spread the virus. But we asked them to be tested before they came. And they did and we were tested. And, and so we had a few opportunities for for some reunions, which were nice. And then we 01:37:00eventually made it back down to Atlanta, when things started opening up a little bit more.

GL: You mentioned that your wife is a nurse was was that a of concern to you when when at the very beginning of the pandemic?

AL: No, it never was, we would joke about it a little bit. But the the first of all, there wasn't a lot happening at Aurora when things were just getting scary. Remember, this was sort of a debate delayed community effect for some time. By the time it started to rock and roll here in Oshkosh, where there were lots and lots of serious cases and lots of deaths, I might add, there was a much better understanding of what the virus was and what it wasn't, and how it was transmitted. It didn't appear to be transmitted on close on the you know, the early days, you know, she would come in and of course wouldn't see me and, you know, you strip off your clothes and throw them in the washing machine right 01:38:00away and put something else on or go take a shower, whatever else that that stopped at some point. Because it was unnecessary. So once you know, I was by the summertime, really when things started to heat up here really in the fall. You know, I was not concerned that I was going to be infected by COVID through her. So, you know, the hospital again did did a good job of keeping their employees safe.

GL: Um, you mentioned you know, the blocks that you did and building those and making those origami cranes, right? I don't know if that was part of your mental health, your self care, but um, how are you doing emotionally, you know, at that time,

AL: whole time you said, there's certainly been ways through it. Certainly, it's tougher as a leader when there's more uncertainty, but you don't need leadership anymore at that point, then, you know, that's that's when you really need a 01:39:00leadership is it points of great uncertainty. There were days when I went home early on, and this is really before it started to hit. But we were really, really preparing and preparing for the worst that it was. It was very taxing, it was very, you know, the fact that I was responsible for all of this, and that, you know, the people were looking to me, to keep them safe, keep them employed, keep them in school. There were a million different suggestions going on, when we do those town halls, you could always tell when things were going well, because there were very few questions coming from the two or 300 people online. And you can tell when people were nervous when there was 50 questions, and they were all incredibly precise and granular about what their particular situation is. So interestingly enough, we used to use those town halls as a barometer, if 01:40:00you will, how it was going on campus. If we had low attendance and few questions, then we knew that people were feeling pretty good. So yeah, there were times, you know, like, right now, I'm kind of metaphorically holding my breath, waiting to see what the next shoe will be that drops, and how that's going to impact us. So

GL: Prior to COVID, did any Did anything happen in your life to help prepare you for this? This moment, you know, this, this, this this situation? I mean this this time?

AL: Well, there, there have been other great periods of uncertainty when I've been in leadership positions in the the 2008 financial crisis that the institution experienced. I was, at the time, the Vice President for University 01:41:00Advancement and the executive director of the foundation of the institution I was at. And we were on the verge of breaking ground on a huge, massive, athletic complex. And I had worked very hard to raise money for that. And I've raised students support for that. And so I was one of the two big leaders of that project. And this was in September of 2008. And the day that we went to the market for credit, there was no credit, there was no credit available at any interest rate in the United States of America for weeks, weeks. And there were Time, money was being burned, or there was there were timelines to be kept. And the credit market, the United States of America had just completely shut down. And this was after Lehman Brothers, and this is when the big banks, whether willingly or unwillingly, we being bailed out. But there was no credit. And that 01:42:00was a particularly tough moment, we knew that people's lives are in jeopardy in the same way they were during a pandemic. But it was, you know, so incredibly disruptive in terms of the financial health of so many as well as the institution itself. So that was a time where we all held our collective breath. And it was really in that same time period, you know, there was I guess I should admit, just mentioned, my father died in the same month, that all happened. And so it was kind of an emotional time. But that was a difficult time.

GL: And how had that experience helped you with what's what you're going through? Now,

AL: When it comes to this administrative stuff, and running these big organizations? First of all, UW Oshkosh has been around 150 years, it's going to 01:43:00be running out 150 years. And I can't screw it up that bad. And I would say the same thing about these these big, you just you just got to be navigated by what you think is right. You've got to listen to people around you. You have to listen to expertise, being prudent. I don't think you should be reckless or are too innovative. But you need to be prudent and it's about the institution itself in the end is that you want to make sure that it endures and I I know now that UW Oshkosh will endure this. And we I think will also endure the last 5, 6, 7 years of some very difficult financial situations we've been in. We've endured a foundation litigation, which is another book you can write. You know, so all of that it's and I think that we're now coming into what could arguably be some of 01:44:00our best days. So I believe that and that's what I, I transmit with every fiber of my being and in the people around me and universities, I want people to know that this is a positive place, and it will continue to be so.

GL: We talked about a lot of different things today. I mean, is there anything else you'd like to add?

AL: I think, this effort that of chronicling what happened is so important. I and I don't want to underestimate that or, or, you know, downplay that at all. I think that in years to come. This can be looked at. And I know that there have been other very difficult times in the history of this institution. Black Thursday is certainly one of them. The enrollment collapse, of course, during World War Two, the loss of Old Main during a fire in 1916. All of these were 01:45:00existential threats to the institution. And I believe that we we have also gone through an existential threat to this institution. And I think there are lessons to be learned for the future, I think, ranging from general curiosity to actual, I think wisdom that could come from this. So it's important that this be archived, that the story be told, and I know right now, we're coming out of this. And it may be that not everybody wants to talk about this at this point, because it's still so fresh on people's minds, and they don't understand the significance of it, I think until we have some some distance. But I'm glad we're doing it. I think it's important work. And I hope that if people hear the sound of this voice of this Chancellor that you know, we did the best we could.

GL: Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contribution to the campus COVID stories at UW Oshkosh.

01:46:00

End of Part 1

Start of Part 2 GL:This is Grace Lim with part two of the interview with Andrew Leavitt for Campus COVID Stories. Today is April 15, 2022. Chancellor, we have a couple more questions from you, for you. And let's just start with, you know, for someone who does not know what a chancellor is at the university, how would you describe that?

AL: Always a good question. A Chancellor is analogous to a president. It's just a matter of nomenclature in the system. So sometimes campus heads are called presidents. And sometimes they're called Chancellors depending on the system that you're in. So I am the CEO of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. And that everything that happens here is under as a part of my responsibility. So I'm responsible for the curriculum, I'm responsible for the fiscal affairs, student well being, student safety, all of the faculty and staff, so I have total 01:47:00responsibility over all aspects of the university.

GL: Now the saying "The buck stops here," does that apply?

AL: Yes, it does. And in many, many ways, whether it's your fault or not, it's always going to be coming to the chancellor.

GL: Okay, great. Thank you. So I just want to touch on a couple of things that we talked earlier. You mentioned in a previous interview that you and your wife Karen, helped sanitize one of the dormitories at the very early days of, of the pandemic? I mean, number one, why, why would you put yourself in that position when we didn't know what the virus was all about? We didn't have the vaccine, etc, etc, right?

AL: Well, a number of reasons. First and foremost, again, custodians at this institution, were really the frontline workers of the institution. And as the 01:48:00chancellor or the head of this institution, I wanted to honor them, I wanted them to know that I was very grateful for what it is that they were doing under very difficult circumstances. And I thought a good way to do that was to simply go work with them, and spend the day and we were over in South Scott, and we were, my wife and I were assigned to two different wings. And I can't remember, I think there's roughly 12 or 15 rooms on a wing. And we vacuumed and we sanitized the rooms and we had a supervisor who would periodically come by and check on us make sure we were doing it right and, and that we had the supplies that we needed. But it was it was hard work. I remember uses in April of 2020. And it was very physical work yet to move the furniture around, which is not easy, simply because it's all seemingly made of steel. And of course, that's the 01:49:00time we still had refrigerators in the room. And so those are were big and bulky as well. That was a big part of it was showing some camaraderie with our custodial colleagues, again, when I do these kinds of acts, they are really meant to be symbolic of my of my gratitude to what people have done during COVID is not in any way shape, or meant for meant to suggest that somehow I was doing the same work that they were.

GL: Yet we're talking this was a very early day you had sent everyone home this semester went remote. And again, we are still at the very early days of pandemic where people you know, on the news were dying and get getting young, tracking COVID. Was that a little, I would say risky behavior, on your part?

01:50:00

AL: Right. Well, a couple of things. One is I had a registered nurse as a spouse, Karen, and so I had a pretty good feel as to what was happening in our community. The Winnebago County Health Department with Doug Garin was also putting out frequent updates. I was just reviewing some photographs on my phone, which I've sent you some on, on or about that time period I had took, it took a screenshot as to what the activity of COVID was in the county at that time. And at that point, in April, there were 41 confirmed cases and one death. And so it simply wasn't here yet. And but we knew that out of an abundance of caution, it was important to move students out. And to close down the campuses as we did all across the country. The vast majority of us did this without a single COVID case on our campuses, but again, we knew that it was coming. And certainly by the fall he was here.

GL: The day that you were cleaning the dormitories. I mean what, just describe 01:51:00what were you actually cleaning?

AL: Well, I have to say, it's been a while since I've had college-aged children. But when you pull bureaus away from walls and move the bed, and it's just, it's like being around teenagers again, to be perfectly honest, I know that. But for the most, they're a younger crowd in the residence halls. And so you are the rooms are supposed to be cleaned to a certain extent when they move out. But we were really we were of sanitizing them, which was different. So I ran the vacuum pulled the furniture around, and Karen did a lot of wiping down with disinfectant of the surfaces in the room. Hands, you know, bureaus, desks, the refrigerator, the bed rails, the whole works. All of those were were sanitized. And so that the rooms were, were in pretty good shape. Now remember, and I 01:52:00talked about this in the first part. We were preparing residence halls to receive community members who were sick at the time. And so we were working with the Winnebago County, as well as the state as well as our local authorities to create a place where we could isolate and quarantine citizens, not so much students, but citizens of Wisconsin, you know, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin in the event that they were sick. That never came to pass and turned out again, it was a bit of a slow burn at first. COVID by the summer had hit us full force. And at that point, other management techniques were in place.

GL: Were you wearing any protective gear at that time for tha cleaning?

AL: Right, we were wearing masks, and we were wearing gloves. At that point. It's my recollection. So we weren't in Tyvek suits. Now, you know, I think we knew enough at the time that that those rooms had been vacated for several weeks 01:53:00at that point, and that the virus simply didn't reside on surfaces indefinitely. So we were pretty confident. I think we were probably more concerned by the fact that we would, we'd be in contact with other employees that people were coming and going, and everybody was masked and gloved in order to keep everybody safe.

GL: You also did something that I would think that most CEOs of corporations don't do, which is work at a reception desk, where probably the lowest paid employees work. So you at one point, Webster dormitory was converted into a COVID dorm. And so tell us about how you ended up working the front desk there?

AL: Yes, this was really in the the week of the highest spike. I want to say I 01:54:00was in there on about the 19th of September of of 2020. And that was the week that we were registering well over 100 positive cases a day in our testing center, which is an avalanche. It was was really a difficult time for us. We had a lot of concern that the system office and that those would have created the conditions that we would have done a partial closure of the campus. But in working with President Tommy Thompson, I asked that that not happen that I felt that we could manage the COVID cases that we have in the to not to close down the campus. Luckily, President Thompson was already sort of predisposed to that type of approach. He wanted to keep things as open as possible. So I had a supporter there. So we had opened up this this residence hall, Webster Hall, for 01:55:00quarantining and isolation. Remember isolation means that you are sick. quarantining means that you've had some close contact with somebody who was sick. And so we needed to keep those two populations separate. This was a coed residence hall at this point, because of the, obviously the nature of the disease. I had visited the residence halls a couple of times and noticed that, you know, we've done a good job in terms of providing food and sustenance and other kinds of supplies to the residents. But there was no one in the lobby, there was no no University personnel that was present on the site, and also in the evenings, in the middle of the night. And so this was kind of on your honor. The students who were required to remain in the residence hall while they were sick. And so at first, I don't think we had a problem with that. But then we started having a problem with folks that might want to leave the residence hall for whatever reason to go out and take a walk or maybe they're just they're just 01:56:00tired. already being there for 10 days, 10 to 14 days in those days. So we also had another interesting event going on, and that parents would come when they knew that their student was sick, they knew this student was being taken care of, and it was in the residence hall. And they would line up lie on chairs, outside of the rooms of the students, the students would open the window, and so they could talk to their parents. And so there was always a dozen or so parents in lawn chairs sitting outside during regular, rather regular business hours there. So I saw a need, and I had talked to our friends in EOC, and the Residence Life. And at that point, you can imagine, there was custodians going in and out of that facility cleaning, but they were wearing full environmental suits. And, you know, so that was kind of scary to look at them, you know, walking in like that. So there wasn't a lot of students and our students are the 01:57:00ones who usually staff residence halls. And so there weren't a lot of people who were lining up to volunteer to serve, as you know, a concierge or somebody who would be remained at the desk. And so I, in order to make the point that this is something that we needed to do, I decided that I would just simply walk over there myself. And I'm, essentially work a four-hour shift, if you will, in that, and I did that for I believe, if I recall three days, three consecutive days and went over a weekend, it was a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, that type of arrangement, where I went over there, and then certainly, certainly got the notice of other senior administrators at the institution, the students are great, they would come down for food. And they they were in various, I'd say various forms of disposition. In other words, there were some that had hardly any symptoms that were just fine. And there were others that had lost taste, and 01:58:00smell. And there are others that just looked and felt terrible. You know, they looked like they had the flu. And you could just see it in their faces, that they were sick. But some knew who I was, I wrote I had a nametag that said, Andy, you know. Some knew who I was and others most people didn't, because, you know, why would you expect a chancellor of the university to be sitting behind a desk in a residence hall. But the point was made by Monday, there was more reinforcements, they started to assign students and they were they found some student volunteers who would be willing to man the desk, during during the day. And so at that point, I was happy to see the position it's you, you have to find ways to entertain yourself when you sit behind a desk, you know, where you're place bound to? So reading and, you know, looking at Facebook and things like that only take you so far. But yeah, it was it was an interesting time, I got a good sense of how the students were doing in the residence halls, which was 01:59:00helpful. And at the same time, once again, without a lot of publicity about it, because I didn't like broadcast this. I just simply showed up and started doing a job. And then finally others followed.

GL: Does Webster Hall usually have somebody at the front desk. I mean, before it was COVID. Dorm.

AL: Yes, all residence halls have. They're called safety desks. All residence halls have monitored entrances, you have to have swipe cards to get in. You we know. You know, we worked very hard to know who is in the residence hall at any given time. And we monitor visitors that come in, for instance, and so yes, to have an unmonitored residence hall, I thought was was a problem, though I don't think a lot of people were trying to get into the COVID residence hall. But, you know, it became a little bit of a problem later that people were trying to get out of the COVID residence hall.

02:00:00

GL: So when you say volunteer, so these students who ended up, you know, staffing that front desk, they're actually volunteers.

AL: Well, they were paid, but they had to volunteer for that duty. Because they were they were CA's that were other residence halls. And so I, you know, they, they had to say, Yeah, I'll step up and I'll, I'll take a turnover at that. At the residence hall, you know, at the COVID residence hall.

GL: What did your senior staff think about this, your Cabinet?

AL: Some of them were concerned, they were concerned that I was putting myself at unnecessary risk. They felt, remember this is before there was any kind of a vaccine I did wearing an N 95 mask when I was in the residence hall. So I felt fairly protected, but you know, coming in direct contact with students and there was glass between me and the students, but they were, you know, just a couple of feet away when I would talk to them. They thought that that was an unnecessary risk that if I were to contract COVID and God forbid I were to actually have a 02:01:00serious reaction to it that that would have been something would be detrimental to university to have the CEO or the chancellor taken out. And I get that I did moderate some of my behavior that I wanted to make sure that I didn't get sick. Certainly my wife and I were as very observant in terms of all the precautions and we had our own bubbles. We limited contact as best we could. And and certainly we were very fastidious about masks. That, you know, even early on, we interested that masks were a big part of how we were going to protect ourselves.

GL: So tell me that, you know, the first time you were behind the desk, and a student that was assigned to the COVID, dorm? I mean, what did what did you say the student?

AL: I said, Thank you for coming. I said, Thank you for coming. I'm glad you're 02:02:00here. Thank you for volunteering, and I can't remember her name, but he was a CA from another residence hall would come over?

GL: Oh, I actually meant the sick students. How did you greet these students?

AL: Well, I only I only saw one or two. In other words, the people who were whoever had the next shift as it were. And so this was by the weekend, you know, by by that Sunday, I think there were students that were coming over, to be fair, so I overall, I only overlapped for a very short time with the students. And at that point, that there was a regular schedule that was established, but I was certainly grateful. And, you know, it's like when you change out the shift of anything, you know, you kind of tell the person what's been going on and what some of the issues are. A lot of the students that were in the residence in the COVID, residence hall in Webster needed basic hygiene supplies of toothpaste and, and all sorts of other things that that you might just normally need. And I, I will say Marc Nylen, who was our director of the Gruenhagen conference 02:03:00center, and I certainly hope he's interviewed for this. He was the ultimate concierge that he was always running to get items for the students. And so I knew that Marc really put a lot of time and effort into into managing the COVID residence hall as did other people to be fair, and, you know, so I'm, it was always a delight to see Marc, because he was always helping people.

GL: Okay, I just want, I just want to make sure I get this right. Before you staffed the front desk, there was no one staffing the front desk,

AL: There was no one staffing the front desk, but there was Marc, and there were other people like for instance, we had routine medical checks there where the students were being taken care of. If that was definitely the case, it was more the point that I thought that there should be someone down on the door at the 02:04:00front desk, that if a student were to come down, say, hey, I need something. That person could be accommodated, you know, in real time as opposed to having to send an email to somebody. And I felt that there should be a human being there that they would sort of monitor the front door a lot of DoorDash a lot of DoorDash. And so students would order food. And there was a process by which they would the food would be left outside, the student will be notified did come down and there was a handoff process to get the food into the building.

GL:Is shaming too strong a word? It sounds like, you know, we saw a need to get somebody at the desk and let's do something big to get somebody at the desk.

AL: Right. And I don't know what I called it in the first time we've talked about this, this is this is part two. If I said shaming, that's the wrong word. It was more I was making a point that that was a need, that we had and and 02:05:00remember, I I'm not the expert on how to take care of students at this. At this level of detail. We have people on campus who know how to do that and did a marvelous job. But I'm a dad, and I know what it would be like to see your kid in this kind of situation and you would want to know that the university is doing everything they possibly could to take care of you. And just as just one little element that I felt that was missing that I just wanted to make the point that we needed.

GL: Okay, and then, um, you know, in our other interviews with people, you know, who worked during the time COVID that we learned from that you actually is dressed up as Santa Claus to deliver gifts to students in the in the COVID dorm. I guess that was in Gruenhagen.

AL: Yeah, we had moved to Gruenhagen at that point. Yes. And yeah, that was 02:06:00obviously in December. It broke my heart to learn that we would have students in Gruenhagen under quarantine and isolation over Christmas. And, you know, I thought that was pretty amazing that they had the self discipline to do the right thing and remain. Mark would have the number. Marc Nylen, I want to say there may have been a dozen students, something like that. So I got together, there were Kim Langoff, along with oh, I'm blanking on her name. She's over at the Culver Center, who helps run events. But the I asked them to help me go shopping at the bookstore, to buys buy stuff, and we kind of had sort of an amount per bag involved. And so I I purchased all of that, actually. And we 02:07:00talked about how we wanted to deliver it. And so I thought it would be great to, to dress up as Santa Claus, it just so happened that the Melissa Bonlender, who was my executive assistant had a Santa Claus suit. And I was willing to put on the top and the hat, but not the pants, I have to say I drew the line at the pants. So I kind of looked at Santa Claus II, if you will. And so we, along with Marc Nylen, who knew exactly what room everybody was in, we went door to door with a pretty funny of range of reactions from the students from just absolute delight, that someone would have thought of that and provided some degree of comfort, if you will. This was a couple of days before Christmas. Two, why are you bothering me right now? I don't feel well, you know, there was a couple of 02:08:00those. And we were very respectful. And you know, handing them the gift and back out. Again, we were masked and the students may or may not have unmasked that because they were of course in their own rooms. But I thought that was a big hit. It took us about an hour or so to to work through the different rooms that we had. And and I know that it was appreciated by the students.

GL: Did they know you were the chancellor?

AL: Yes, they did. I was I introduced myself as the chancellor. And so they again, you know, they appreciated the fact that we took the time to do that.

GL: You know, these, these situations we were talking about just makes it seem a little weird that that, again, the CEO of a large institution, I mean, a corporate I mean, if you're this as a corporation, we're talking you have 16,000 people that you are responsible for, again, I you, I don't understand why you do 02:09:00these things.

AL: You know, it's it's a big part of what your job is, is culture is setting tone. And, you know, if if somebody truly believes and I'm sitting behind a desk, literally running the university, that's not what I do. There are breathtakingly competent people at this institution and for vice chancellors, we have a whole level of assistant and associate vice chancellors, we have directors we have. And that's then you get into the academic side of deans and department heads, and of course, individually individual faculty and staff, they run the university. And what I do more than anything is is is set strategic directions, in concert with the various constituencies I have. And then it's about creating the kind of culture that that you know, will move the university 02:10:00forward. So one of those, of course, is servant leadership, you want to show people that you appreciate what it is that they do on a daily basis. And most of the time, that means simply just showing up and saying thank you. But there are rare occasions when I think it's better to, to do something a little bit beyond that, in order to demonstrate that you really do listen and you care, and that you want things to be better for people. So that's the reason why the word performative comes to mind, you know, if I teach a class or if I man a desk, or if I'm Santa Claus, to a certain extent that is performative, but it does come from a place of real gratitude in my heart, that I again want people to know that that, that they're heard they're seen and that we care about them.

GL: You know, there's yet another time you did something that was really not on 02:11:00Um, chances are like, I don't, in my mind, even advertise this, but you taught in the fall of 2020, which is the first time we returned back in person, after the pandemic, you know, after we shut down and want me shut down in person and March, again, told me the thought process about that.

AL: Yeah, that was, that was a scary time to come back in person. And we wanted to be well in person and our wits about roughly speaking in any given semester, but 80% of our classes are face to face 20 2019 to 20% are online. And, you know, if you're 100%, online in the, in the spring of 2020, and it's how we ended, how do you ramp that back up? Again, people forget, we didn't have we didn't have the vaccines at that point. And it was, you know, you're killing 2, 02:12:00500, 3,000 people a day in the United States of America, were dying of COVID. And they were people of the age that many of our faculty and staff are. And you know, the students seemed like they could manage it, you know, that students would get sick, and they would recover. As a matter of fact, to my knowledge, we did not have a serious illness amongst the students done. And I hope that that's absolutely the case. But it was never brought to my attention that we had an I had something that I asked about frequently. But faculty and staff are different. We know we're older, and I'm in that prime age, and they have underlying health conditions, as most people do when they they get on in years. So we were asking classroom faculty and instructional academic staff to do something that was not necessarily in their best interest. We were asking them to go back into a room that 25 To 50 to 100. Young people. And we were asking 02:13:00everybody to wear masks and observe social distancing and, you know, wipe down surfaces and that kind of thing, which they did, I've always been pleased by the, the high level of compliance that our students engaged in, along with faculty and staff. So we had faculty who were quite frankly, well terrified about going back in and, and there, there's a level of assurance that we needed to provide that we would be doing a lot of testing, there was a lot of students that would be pulled out of class, if they if they of course, presented with symptoms, all of that. And so I was asking them to do something that I felt that I had to be willing to do myself. And again, might be a little performative. The fact that I taught one lab that was Chemistry 105, with a lot of support from the department, I might add, you know, what does it mean to teach a lab, that means you're in physical contact with the students in the same room, you're 02:14:00providing instruction, you're providing supervision, and you're in close proximity. So I felt that it was the least I could do is to do this one unit chemistry lab, in order to demonstrate some level of camaraderie or empathy for what a faculty or staff member who might be teaching a four load, you know, much heavier, heavier load than I would, but again, you know, I wanted to, and I never, I'd never publicized it. And the reason why I didn't is that I wanted to kind of keep it in my back pocket in case I were ever engaged in the conversation that said, you know, you're making us do this, but you don't do it yourself. And that never happened. You know, and again, that's a testament to the faculty that even though they had many had reservations, there were many, though, that were willing to go in, and, you know, we're, we're ready to accept the risk. But that was never called on that. And so I never really told them, 02:15:00you know, obviously, people in chemistry knew my own. colleagues knew that I was doing this, but I never really broadcast that because I didn't need to, in the end, people did their jobs. They did it magnificently and selflessly.

GL: And have you taught before? Before that fall 21?

AL: Yes, I one other time, I believe it was the fall of 18. And that was just for fun. I wanted to do it every so often. It's good for for me to do that because I need to get in front of real students and real settings, with context to remember what it's like to do that because as an administrator, you can be so isolated. Yes, I go to a lot of student events, and I talk to a lot of students but it's different than actually being involved in teaching. So I think it's 02:16:00important that from time to time I'm senior administrators who can, should teach. They should teach just to remember what it's like. I, in my own my own mind, and maybe it's it's the the topic of another talk, I would make observations of how students today are different than what they were when I first started this almost 30 years ago, teaching in terms of I do believe that I found students to be very respectful, prepared, for the most part, which I know is maybe it's just because I'm Chancellor, I don't know, but they were a joy to be with. But the one thing I will say about students today, which they struggle with, is they any kind of of what's the word I'm looking for here? unpredictability. They don't revel in. Uncertainty, uncertain. Thank you so much 02:17:00uncertainty, they don't like uncertainty. If they really see the world in a lot of ways in black and white, is this the right answer? Is this the wrong answer? And of course, in science, you you, you just absolutely torture them by saying, Well, what do you think? And you know, then that's, that's not a place that a lot of students like to be.

GL: When was the last time you taught full time prior to the 2018

AL: A full time lecture course, would have been in the in the spring of 2009. That's was a that was last semester, I was a full time faculty member at the University of West Georgia. And I taught a full complement of classes I've heard if I recall, was General Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry. And in a lecture format, I when I was at the University of North Georgia, on three or four separate occasions, I would teach a lab, just like I do now, the reason why labs and not lectures, it's, you know, my, my first attended of teaching is do no 02:18:00harm. And, to me, a lab is something I can manage. It's one event a week, it's for three hours, you can prepare for it. A lecture is a huge level of responsibility. And it's one that I I don't feel as if I should inflict that on students just for my own personal enjoyment.

GL: Tell us a little bit about the the lab, you know, the teaching that you did in fall of 2020? I mean, what kind of when you first introduced yourself to the students? I mean, what did you say? And also, we're, again, this is at the height of our surges,

AL: Right. Yes. So the chemistry department I didn't think didn't just Jennifer Milalick and others did a remarkable job of setting up experiences for the students. So the first thing that was done is that we created an alternate week 02:19:00schedule. Instead of having a full lab of 18 students, we had a lab of nine, one week. And then the students who were in lab the first week, those students who weren't in lab would do some type of dry lab exercise at home. That's usually they're given data, and they're asked to do some of the analysis. And then they swap, so that the second week, the second nine group come in. And so I thought that was pretty clever. And, and good, because the students got real good hands on experience. And of course, you couldn't do as many labs. And so the faculty really had to, to work through all the different things that we thought were important for students to know and select those that are the highest priority. And they did. Again, the faculty were remarkable in all of this. So that's how it worked. So when I, the funny thing about it is I try not to wear the whole Chancellor bit on my sleeve. Students don't necessarily know who the chancellor 02:20:00is, nor do they care. I certainly remember my undergraduate experience, the only time I ever saw the university president was at commencement, and that was at afar with a certain degree of hostility because he seemed to talk and talk and talk and talk at the at the commencement ceremony. So you know, when I would walk in, the only thing that would differentiate me from any other faculty members affected, I was always wearing a suit. And I would put on a white lab coat, which I Why have as I would normally be my custom for lab. So then I looked like a physician, because I was wearing a tie and a dress shirt with a white lab coat. And so you know, again, that's not how most chemistry professors Look, when they're, when they're teaching. I wouldn't necessarily let the students know who I was. And so a few would instantly know who I was, and then others might go the entire semester, and not who know who I am, but usually about three or four weeks in everybody's caught on at that point. I never missed 02:21:00the lab in the two yours I did this, you know, I always had a backup, you know, this stuff comes up. And you know, I have to be called out of town or into some kind of special meeting. But I worked really hard to make sure that if I took on this obligation that I wouldn't miss miss anything. And I didn't, for the two years that I did it, which is something I'm actually quite proud of, is that I was able to prioritize it enough to to fulfill that obligation.

GL: And these students ask why, why are you doing this? Why are you here?

AL: Yeah, they did. And to them, I had a more I just said, I like to teach and which is true. And it's good for me to be in front of you. So I usually use that angle. As opposed to that I'm, you know, I'm trying to comfort faculty. Because I don't think that really added to the narrative at that time. But, you know, I, it's important for me to understand who the students are, and and then there's absolute truth to that. And so, you know,

GL: Okay, so I'm going to move on to some of the things we missed. In the last 02:22:00interview with that. Do you know anyone close to you or did you get COVID and other people that you were close to get COVID?

AL: I'm the only one of my family on certainly my immediate family, my three children and two grandchildren and my spouse who has had COVID. And it was in January of 2022. So vaccines were already in vogue, I had been double vaccinated, and I have been boosted. I mean, I'm always appropriately the first one in line. In other words, I don't I don't take I don't jump in line. But at the same time, I understand the value of the vaccines and I want to be vaccinated, wore masks religiously. And of course, what got me in the end, which is sort of always irritates me is it was a family reunion. It was on my wife's 02:23:00side. We were at a family reunion. And you know, you spend a few days with family and all sudden you've no one's wearing masks. And one of the family members, in fact, was sick with COVID ended up testing that day. And I remember being in the living room of this, one of the homes and and suddenly it was tested positive. And we probably had a 15 minute conversation as a group. And then we all scattered, you know, on with the masks, went down and bought testing kits. We my wife and I were in Phoenix, Arizona at the time. This was in again to visit family. And we both tested and then we immediately got an airplane and flew back, of course mast. So we tested negative and we flew back to Oshkosh and then within two days time, I went to the Testing Center here on campus and 02:24:00received the test and it just lit up like a Christmas tree that was positive. Then had a PCR confirmation. And with that, in addition to the rapid tests, because I needed documentation for my own health, a health care company that hadn't factored in the only thing they would accept as a PCR. So and I had very, very, very mild symptoms and recovered and I'm still within that 90 day window right now of having had COVID of which you're less likely to be reinfected in that time period. And then I'm going to be much more careful. You're moving forward. But yeah, it was a family reunion. It got me now I have younger children. I have my 24 year old who we were always worried that she was going to get COVID But you know, she looks at me and just says, Hey, Dad, you know, who got COVID .You know, she hasn't had COVID and nor have my other children and all 02:25:00the family on my, my my side have none of them. Nobody's had said COVID. And again, we're all very careful, but it was just letting your guard down one time is what we'll do it. I had a friend, I have a pod of friends. It's difficult for Chancellor's to have friends I might add. And but I have a great group of friends. And I know that one of the members of our pod actually was infected with COVID very early on and was quite sick and but then recovered, never hospitalized but then recovered and in he's fine now. But that was it. Other than the fact that there was just probably at the end of the day, we probably had 2 to 3,000 people to university that were contracted COVID during this pandemic.

GL: Okay, now moving on to some more administrative type of questions. You know, 02:26:00in the last interview, you talked about the In the furloughs of 180 employees, and you said it was not a budgetary concern, but more of having cash on hand, explained to me about that, was it a real concern that the university was not going to be able to pay its bills?

AL: Well, that to an extreme, yes, you like any business, you have to have cash on hand to operate. And we've been in the in the midst of a five to six year enrollment decline, as I had mentioned previously, which means that our revenue coming in doesn't necessarily always cover the expenses. As a matter of fact, it was always lower than expenses. And so we've we've been scrambling for years in terms of, of using reserves to pay the difference, but you have to, you have a structural deficit at that point, you have to fix it through the budget, you have to change, you have to lower the budget, which means that you have fewer 02:27:00positions or your activities are curtailed. And of course, we're doing everything we can to raise revenue. And that's primarily done through enrollment management, that we are working very hard. And we've put in a lot of good programs, which we believe will will pay off in the long run, but it takes time. So you know, this is before Herf and ARPA and the federal help, we were in a position and we were looking at the forecast for the following fall, the fall, excuse me, the fall of 2020 2020. And our enrollment manager was projecting that we could have as much of it as a 12% loss of total enrollment, which in any normal year would be catastrophic. 12% decline in our and revenue, so we had to prepare for that. And so you can't, you can't cut that kind of money out of a budget instantly. You know, and not completely disfigured the University. One of 02:28:00the tools you could do was to generate cash to help generate a reserve against that 12% through furloughs. Now, most of the UWs did that to limit the varying extents. And then we were given a high degree of autonomy to decide how we wanted to do that. Some institutions did not furlough. University of Wisconsin Madison did. They furloughed. They did, excuse me intermittent furloughs. The continuous furloughs had to be done. And what is the difference between intermittent and continuous intermittent is you tell people that they have to work less per week. So we had to furlough days per month that were taken. So that's essentially a 10%. a pay cut, is what you're looking at. A continuous furlough is when the person is simply out of work, and no longer has access to a 02:29:00paycheck. But is subject to recall. So if you haven't terminated them, you haven't fired them, you haven't laid them off, you furloughed them, which means that you can very, very quickly bring them back. And all the institutions were were in, in that place of where we had to look at employees, you cannot send an employee home and not have them work at all and pay them that's that's a problem with state law. You can't pay them to do nothing. And so there are there was a subset of employees at the University who could not work remotely. You know, you just think of the kinds of jobs that might entail and you know, so that's that's the people caught up in the in the continuous furlough about 180 employees, or those that we simply didn't have anything for them to do. And as a result we had to, or else we would have intermittently furloughed them. I wish that if they if 02:30:00they if they could work, the rest of the employees were intermittently furloughed. And so what that helped us to do was we generated cash that we could put up against this 12% decline in enrollment that we were preparing for. And that's that's the reason we would have had to have done the continuous furloughs anyway. We did the intermittent furloughs to build up the cash

GL: Okay, that makes more sense and then the the university's budget you the last interview said that the budget overall budgets 240 million and then only about 110 215 Is budget double.So what is not budgetable?

AL: Pass through money, for instance of federal financial aid is not something that we budget, it just is. And so you can't make plans against it because you never know how much you have in any given year because it's up to the student to 02:31:00to bring that through. So there are a lot and those are nuances that you'd have to ask people in finance about, but there are a lot of money that flows in and out of the university, that's not necessarily money that we have direct authority to control. And so I know it's a little bit ethereal there. But you know, the 100 to 115 million I can we can look at a piece of paper and say, Okay, here's how much we're putting towards positions. And here's how much we're putting towards stuff. And it adds up to the nuts. That's the budget that we can control.

GL: So if I were trying to simplify things for, say, like in a podcast, do I say you oversee a what X number of a budget?

AL: Typically you give the big number, that I'm responsible for a $250 million enterprise? That's right.

GL:Okay. All right. And then the federal monies that you talked about, as part 02:32:00of the COVID relief, the 40 million, he said 20 million were earmarked for students that you cannot do anything about. And I get that

AL: well, then. But let me just emphasize the tone, we supported the idea of pushing money out to students. Sure. So it's not that I was trying to divert it in any way he was. It was meant for the students. And of course, we cheerfully adhere to the federal guidelines to students.

GL:I just want to double check with you regarding the the amount that each of the students who qualified and applied for whatever receipt, he said something anywhere from 900 to $1,500. So what's that total? Or you said that you were the monies were dispensed, like five to six times?

AL: Yes. At least at least for them, I'm aware of Dr. Aggie Hani is the person who oversaw the the Administering of this program. So she would have better but that 900 to $1,500, it was really per distribution. So there's, you know, a 02:33:00student could receive that four times. You know, so that's, again, that was, the Trump administration wanted that. And that's where it started. And then the Biden administration continued it. And it was, in my mind, he was really meant as stimulus to help students who have been displaced. Remember, they were moved out of residence halls, places like that, and they certainly needed, they needed money in a lot, a lot of places weren't open, you know. So it's not like that a lot of them had lost their jobs at that point. You know, it because of places being closed for COVID. So the money I know was very helpful to the students. And I don't want to come across as being snarky or anything like that. But oftentimes, I we hear from students who will say, you should rebate us money on our tuition, because the experience you provide isn't what I signed up for when I came to college. Well, it wasn't for what any of us signed up for, I will say 02:34:00this, that the ability for us to give instruction remotely, cost more than when it when we were giving it in the face to face format, and that we had to move very quickly to put technology in place, in classrooms and with faculty in in some instances with students themselves, who simply had no ability to, to engage in in remote learning. And we were able to help many of the students who self identified but we money did come back to the students. It may have been from the federal government have filtered through us, but nevertheless, there was money that was distributed, which I know was very helpful, and they were grateful for

GL: And the other half of the federal monies to 20 million, how has the university used that money?

AL: You know, the exact distribution I'm not going to get right. But the vast majority of it went to reimburse the university for losses due to COVID. So for 02:35:00instance, that runs anywhere from the when we had to reimburse residence hall rented along with dining fees, and we had to excuse me, we lost enrollment as a result of this. And so we there is list of eligible expenses on the federal side that we can use this for this. So we ended up using most of it to, to to reimburse us for either for COVID expenses or direct COVID losses. We do have some amount that's left over. I can't give you the precise it could be two or $3 million, that at this point, reside with us and then we have until 2026 In order to spend, there will be a great reckoning in the end. That there's a lot of work being done a lot of consideration a lot of concern amongst colleges and universities on how COVID money is spent. Have, we probably have some of the 02:36:00more restrictive rules, if you look at it COVID funds that had gone to ARPA or her funds that had gone to municipal municipalities, counties, they have a wider range of latitude and how they spent the money. On as matter of fact, a lot of that money is now being discussed to use for, you know, county wide improvements that may or may not have anything to do with COVID. But it's money that, you know, that's now available for that purpose. So, here, we're very much tied to the COVID response and will continue to be the UW system is obviously very much engaged in this as the CBOs work closely with the system to make sure that the money is well accounted for it, it is associated with the right kinds of reimbursements. Because we know in the end, it's just we'll all be audited. And 02:37:00we we believe we're in good shape for any kind of an audit that might come our way.

GL: I just want to go back to one thing. Early on, we said this is really early on, we said that when you're working in the front desk that are positive, positively rates were like over 100 a day. And there was there was this concern, is that higher or lower than other other universities of our size. I mean, it's that around what everybody's going through, or were we higher?

AL: Everybody had their time in the box. Eau Claire was a week before us, I recall. And it had a lot to do with with our start dates. Those schools start lacrosse Eau Claire, Madison, what many of them did, which I'm I'm trying to imagine in my mind how this work? Is they sequestered students in residence halls and didn't let them leave for a week. And whether they were sick or not. 02:38:00No, not that that's what I'm my my recollection now that the actual actually what happened may be different, slightly different that but that was my recollection of what happened. And, you know, so when it hit us it hit, it definitely hit us hard. And you know, there's a big spike, I remember that Wednesday of that week of the September 19, that I've where I took that picture. It was I think that was the high watermark. And I'm sure EOC can tell you give you the numbers for that week. And it was it was scary. And I remember getting a call from President Thompson saying, Hey, man, how you doing? You know, do you need to? Do you need to shut down? And I said, No, no, I don't think that's the way. And one of the reasons why I felt that way is that I had sacrificed supreme confidence in our plan in Kurt Leibold and Kim Langolf and in the return to work plan that we had in place, the residence hall the way we manage residence halls 02:39:00and the way we were testing. We were innovators and how we tested and how we surveilled the entire university with these tests, and there was real time data that was being considered and worked and in EOC as a result of the way that we laid this out, so I thought we could manage it. And in the end, we did it was started to subside. And by the second two or three weeks later, it was back down to the a normal, uncomfortable level, as opposed to just totally white knuckle there that week. And and but never for a minute I did I say we should close this university we should send it didn't make any sense to send people home simply for the fact that we would be sending all these disease vectors into different committees and communities. We needed to keep them here.

GL: Alright, so COVID is still here with us. Two years after two years. I mean, and you mentioned your your your grandchildren are still young, let's say 10,20 02:40:00years from now and they asked you about what happened. What happened granddad during the time and COVID What did you do? What do you what would you say?

AL: I would say I was a part of a community that we had access to resources where, you know, we were not passive. We were aggressive and we were proactive. And we fought, I don't want to militarize anything here, but we we really did work hard to mitigate the impact of this disease, so that our students could have some semblance of an educational experience. So I'm very proud of the fact that, you know, I was a part of a group of people where we did things, and we brought resources to bear and we spent a lot of money doing it too. And then I'm very grateful, as I've always said Governor Tommy Thompson, there are our 02:41:00president at the time, who could marshal resources from the federal government, specifically for Wisconsin, which Wisconsin became a real living laboratory. In fact, we were some of the first places to open university-based community testing sites in the country now was at the at the urgence, of the, of the CDC through Governor Thompson. So, in we were an exemplar in that as well. So I'm, I'm very proud to have been a part of this. I think our I think all the UWs did well, in the end, you know, I'm not suggesting that we were necessarily any better than anyone else in this. But certainly in real time, I really felt as if we had a great plan, we had the people and the resources to manage it.

GL: Okay, anything else you'd like to add?

AL: Yes. I'm delighted that this record is being made. And I don't know if I saw 02:42:00that said this in the part one of this, but I will say it now. We would, you know, one of the things we did early on in this pandemic was to go back to see how this institution dealt with the previous pandemic, and there was almost no information. And that was a pandemic that killed 2% of the world's population worldwide. And, as a matter of fact, it even touched my family, my great grandfather succumb to the Spanish flu in 1920, as a result of this, and you know, it was disappointing to learn that there really wasn't anything in the record about this. And I think we're going to leave. And I'm very grateful that we're going to leave an indelible record that people can look at, and study for years to come. And hopefully, it'll be if never another 100 years before we get 02:43:00a pandemic, they'll probably be sooner that, you know, they can look back and see a full and rich account of everything we did to fight this. And for that, you know, I'm grateful and I think this is this is definitely worth worth the effort.

GL: Thank you. Thank you again, for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate contribution to the campus COVID stories that UW Oshkosh, thank

AL: Thank you.

End of Part 2

Beginning of Part 3

TS: So this is Tanner Sarauer interviewing Andrew Levitt on Thursday, October 20th for Campus COVID Stories. Instructor Grace Lim is also with us. Thank you again for participating in this project.

AL: My pleasure, Tanner.

TS: Thank you. We have a lot of information from the previous interviews that we've conducted with you. This interview is mostly for clarification and additional details, so we may be jumping around a bit, please bear with me. Getting right into it, going back to research at the Rotunda on March 11th, 2020. Can you set the scene of what is going on in your head on your way to the 02:44:00event? Specifically, do you normally attend research at the rotunda or is this 2020 an exception?

AL: Research under the rotunda is or in the rotunda is held annually. So I've been to it every year that since I've been here since 2014, so I guess it would be spring of '15 would be the first time so yes, I attended annually and haven't missed one yet.

TS: And then on your way to the event in 2021, you know, COVID is kind of on the horizon here and you need to be discussing with other UW System employees, what is going on in your head? Can you just kind of set the scene of what you're thinking on your way there? Are you focused more on the research that you're going to be looking at? Or is it different from other times and you're more focused on COVID at the time?

AL: No, we were very focused on the COVID. I can't remember exactly who was in the car with me, but it certainly would be people who would be associated with the cabinet normally. Alex Hummel normally goes, John koker goes, oftentimes, 02:45:00Bob Roberts would would be in attendance as well. So I do recollect that we were having general conversation about, you know, what, what might happen? What might not happen, really dependent on what the system was interested in doing? So in terms of the car ride over there, yes, we were discussing the possible different scenarios that might happen with with COVID. And then certain, certainly, of course, I'm there for the research, but at the same time, this was different, because we knew that we would be in front of other UW colleagues, the other Chancellor's would be there. And at the same time, our system president, then Ray Cross would be there. And in the event, if you want me to expound or would you like to wait for the question, or how do you want to do this

TS: You can keep expanding on where you were going.

AL: Well, it when you go to the Research under the Rotunda there's an I don't 02:46:00know, if you've been in the capital, there's a you're on the, essentially the second floor. So there's a huge Well, that is in front of you with a banister that goes all the way around it is a stone banister, beautiful building, best best capital I've ever seen. And so we the entire system is sort of arrayed around this big banister, which is round. So you sort of spent your time weaving in and out of the crowd in, you know, seeking out other chancellors. You know, what do you think is going to happen? What do you kind of what, what kinds of criteria would you use to make a certain kinds of decisions? So, it was really sort of very practical. And to be honest, what was really happening there is that we were all kind of waiting to see what Madison did. Because Madison's the flagship and you know, it was that that was the kind of place that sort of had its own resources, you know, they were going to do their own testing, you know, 02:47:00so once it came out during that event that Madison was going to close for one week and reopen the rest of us scattered. It was it was back in cars, and driving back. So we're driving back to the campuses, certainly I was in at that point, simply because we had plans to make and so it we ended up of course, pausing for two weeks, because we were one week away from spring break. So we were going to take off a week and then take spring break. And that would give a faculty an opportunity to, to go online, you know, to go remote at that point.

GL: I just want to be straight. During the event you learned about what Madison was doing?

AL: Yeah. Well, again, this these were high level leaders. So the chancellor for Madison was not there. Becky Blank was not there if I recall but there were other people from Madison that were there. And it was it was pretty, you know, 02:48:00so I learned at that event. Now, they may have announced it publicly later, but I learned at that event that they that you know they had made plans to close close for a week, retool and then reopen.

GL: How did you find that out?

AL: It just amongst I can't remember exactly who told me it's been so long now. But it was in the conversations I was having in sort of in the in the crowd there. And it you know, it spread pretty quickly. I mean, a lot of other folks also got into cars and drove back.

TS: So then you mentioned giving yourselves two weeks to transfer to online. Earlier, you said we were initially at 81%, face to face 19% online, we had to make that transition to 100%. Specifically, you mentioned technological obstacles. At the time that we were being sent home, did you feel that campus was going to be able to overcome these challenges, or were you worried about how the how that transition would go? And were you worried about the outcome that may may have happened?

02:49:00

AL: Yes, all of the above, I was worried about our capability of doing what we were going to need to do, what the outcomes would be what the impact on the students and faculty staff would be. All of that. It's there were huge technological issues, there were a lot of people who didn't have the right equipment. For instance, we knew that professors and instructors would have to take computers home, things like that we didn't really have all the policies in place while the policy was in place, but the mechanism in which to check out equipment and move it out. You know, what was it everything was done so quickly, that we actually had to go back and do it after the fact. You know, the, you can't just take equipment home, you actually have to check it out and there's there's paperwork involved. So that's something that we, we did sort of after the fact, the idea was, what do we need to do to make sure that we're successful in two weeks when we reopen, and that was really the focus. Adherence with 02:50:00policies always important, and I believe that we did, but at the same time, that was not always at the top of mind, we wanted to figure out how to get get the job done as quickly as possible so that learning would continue uninterrupted.

TS: Going back a little bit, you had mentioned that we as a campus, were working through a multi year enrollment decline, leading up to COVID, which put a lot of economic strain on our institution. How much pressure was put on you to fix that situation? And then how did that pressure change once COVID came about?

AL: Any pressure that was put on me to fix enrollment was put on by myself? And also just the situation in which there was no, I mean, yes, so there's always concern at the system level as to what the enrollment institutions were, but nobody ever came and said, you know, Chancellor, you have to fix this or else kind of thing. It's just not the way it works. So no, it was more about we wanted to wasn't about growing, it was about stabilizing, that we're okay with 02:51:00being a smaller institution, as long as we are a stable institution in terms of enrollment. And that's an objective, by the way, I might add that we have not yet met even to today, the each year, we have continued declines in enrollment, which are, in my mind, unsatisfactory for trying to build a more stable institution. So they, the enrollment challenges were certainly enhanced under COVID because COVID are not, if students aren't showing up, then we're not collecting tuition. And if we're not collecting tuition, then we have to cut the expense side. And, and that's one of the things that led to quite frankly, the the series of furloughs, which I ordered in early May hof, I believe, I ran from May 5 of 2020 through the fall semester. There was two actually two sets of of 02:52:00furloughs. The first was the summer only which impacted, essentially everybody but faculty. And then in the fall, it was a different set of furloughs put in place because the faculty were involved in that point. We had graduated, the the amount that each person would we'd be held back in terms of their furlough that was related to what their income level was. So people who had made less money were furloughed less than people who made more money.

TS: I just want to double check. Were those furloughs that had occurred, did they occur because of the pandemic? Or do you believe they still might have occurred, even had COVID never happened?

AL: They occurred because of the pandemic. We were so concerned about the enrollment in the fall. As we've already pointed out, we were having some we're always sort of under constant pressure of financial pressure because of the enrollment. And we wanted we wanted to it was a cash flow issue more than 02:53:00anything. And this is going to sound rather dramatic. But, you know, there was some concerns amongst some of us about making payroll of having enough cash on hand to make payroll. So what the furloughs were about was a realization that we could be down as much as 12% in enrollment in the fall, which would be huge. And therefore, we would be very short of resources, cash on hand really to in order to finance our operations. So the furloughs closed that gap. And in in the end, we weren't down 12%, we turned out to be down 7%, which is not a great number, but at the same time, certainly less than what we had anticipated. And so the furloughs put us in a very, very good financial position as an institution in terms of replenishing reserves, which were already dangerously low and putting 02:54:00us in a much better financial situation.

TS: How hard was the decision to bring on those furloughs for the campus staff? And how long did it take for that decision to be made after furloughs were initially offered as a potential solution?

AL: Yeah so not every UW went furloughed? Not every UW did that. And we needed to, and there's two different kinds of furloughs. I think I've discussed previously, one are continuous furloughs, which are the person is completely out of work for some period of time where they don't it, they're just, they're just out of work. They don't they don't draw a paycheck, they don't do work. So they're home. And then you had intermittent furloughs. Which means that the what the way we approached it was everybody had to have two furlough days per month, which was the maximum allowed under the intermittent furlough, which basically, if you think about it, there are 20 work days in a month, because you know, you 02:55:00have four weeks or five days each 20 work days in the month. And if you take two days away, that's about a 10%. pay cut. So what you experience really was was a 10%, pay cut. And it was very important that we adhere to this religiously, that a person not be permitted to work even if they wanted to, for free, because that's a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, that you cannot have someone work and not compensate them. So it was very important that if you know those two, two days you had to take off. And so I found that that to be to be sort of unworkable for me personally. And for members of my senior staff, particularly the vice chancellors, because, quite frankly, we work 24/7 365 with the this responsibility. And so in lieu of furlough, the group of us took a 15% p ay 02:56:00reduction, so that we could work on those days, even though because there weren't any specific days, we weren't working. We just took 15% less. So I felt I felt 15% was the right number. We were asking employees to take for the the intermittent employees to take a 10% cut, the ones that were on continuous, which was about 180 employees were having 100% Cut. So and if you recall, at the time, there was exceedingly generous unemployment benefits, and every every person who was continuously furloughed, was eligible for unemployment insurance, which they received. And that was $300. Of if I recall, I want to say, I'm gonna get the numbers wrong. Now, because it's been so long. There's the state contribution, which I want to say is $300, every two weeks, and then the Feds were paying $600 a week on top of that. So that was, in some instances that was 02:57:00more than what they make here. So that's, it was still one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made was to order the continuous furloughs because you are creating a very high level of stress and uncertainty is someone else's life. We didn't know when people would come back. We took it one segment at a time at a time. So for instance, the first furlough lasted through the summer. But in during that time period, I made a decision to extend the furloughs to the 31st of December. And I'm also proud to say that of the schools that that went on furlough. We were the only ones who ended our furloughs early. We ended it ended in December of, of 20, when other schools took their furloughs through the following spring and ended in July or June, I should say, end of June of 21.

TS: Okay, so then, kind of leading away from the furloughs and going back to 02:58:00COVID. In general, how did it how did you feel about having to send all of our students home? And were you more focused on the health advantages and benefits of them going home or were you worried about the educational disadvantages at all of sending them home for 100% online instruction?

AL: I was worried that there we would be creating inequities or learning gaps. Not everybody has the ability to learn from home. There's very good reasons why people go to college and spend their time in residence halls. I think I had stated previously that the I think the one, I'm sure I made many mistakes, but the one decision I really regret in the end, which really was the norm at the time was, was evacuating the residence halls in their entirety, I think that those who could go home should have gone home. But I think we should have allowed others to stay. And now that in very rare instances, I want to say fewer 02:59:00than a dozen students were, in fact permitted to stay simply because they were international students, or they just simply had no place to go. But I think that if we had had an option available for students to remain in the residence halls, it's to some extent, that would have been a better learning opportunity for those students. So I was always worried about that the safety part of it. Yes, we were depopulating a campus that otherwise people are very close together, living in residence halls is very close quarters. There's no question about that. But I also wasn't fooling myself that that many of our students would end up contracting COVID at home, and other places, because it really COVID was so dependent upon an individual behavior, that if you chose to protect yourself, 03:00:00and to be vigilant about it, masking and separating, you weren't going to get get the disease. But there were a lot of people I think, who simply either didn't think the disease was that bad or quite frankly, felt that, you know, they're, they're invincible, and we're okay with getting the disease in the end. To my knowledge of, of the young people who were contracted COVID, very few, if any, had any serious health implications because of it, they seem to recover. Now, some may have long COVID. And I'm not aware. But there weren't there were no deaths amongst the students here, nor any of the employees that I'm aware.

TS: When you made the decision to send the students home initially, was there agreement among the Cabinet members? And was there an EOC recommendation on the decision? Or was there pushback on your decision? Or could you elaborate on that?

AL: Yes, there was, there was unanimity on the decision, the way that the 03:01:00decision making worked is that I wanted to have the best possible information in order to make the decision. All of those decisions were made by me, personally, I have the EOC to advise me in and I have the cabinet to advise me and vice chancellors, but it's a single person in the way that these institutions are set up that where all of that decision making authority is vested and that's the chancellor. So I prefer to work off recommendations and so for instance, we would have dialogue with the EOC about the kinds of questions that needed to be debated at their level, they would then provide a recommendation to me, which was oftentimes then shared with and vetted through the cabinet, and then I made a decision. That decision in many instances was was, you know, very consistent with what was recommended by the EOC. But in some instances, it wasn't. Some 03:02:00instances it was different. And that was the prerogative that I could exercise as, as the chancellor. And in the end, you know, there were no, there was no opposition, or it was just a disagreement or a different point of view. In many instances that could be that could be rationalized.

TS: And then while we were home, you said your role was kind of the communicator for our campus and for the community as well. Did you feel as though people were relying on you to guide them through this process? And how does it feel to have literally 1000s of students and employees looking to you for answers specifically?

AL: Right, I guess, in my mind, I, I want to think that I helped guide the institution through the process as opposed to individuals. I'm not. I'm not I don't have that level of hubris to think that I guided people. But I did guide an institution. And maybe that's, you know, splitting hairs, I realize, but to me, there's a difference, and that I wasn't looking to be the person who helped 03:03:00people make their own personal decisions about how they were interacting with COVID. Far from it. That was a very personal decision for each individual to make, to me was more about what was in the best interest of the our students and the university and our employees but as as these groups, so I certainly I would agree with the statement that I helped guide the institution but not individuals.

TS: Alright. Was there ever a time that you felt overwhelmed by how much you were responsible for handling the transition from person to online for the institution?

AL: Every day? Every single day.

TS: How did you? I think I have a question down here for, how did you handle your stress throughout the pandemic? Um, you were responsible for such a wide variety of decisions with the students and staff more so than just sending them online, but so many of the things, what was the best way that you handled your stress?

AL: I'm not sure I did. To be perfectly honest. You know, I think that it says 03:04:00something that you become accustomed to, in this job, I can assure you, before I walked into this room, there's, there's about five things on my desk right now that are just driving me nuts. And that, now, they may not be the same, you know, same level of, you know, having to close an institution or send 1000s of students home for home learning. But it's just, it's just a job. And you just manage, you have a way of, of setting aside some level of passion, or, or, I'm not sure I'm trying to find the right word for this. And being careful at the same time, your personal feelings on things you have to set aside. Because if you put your personal feelings into everything you do, every decision you make, you'll you'll not, you'll burn up, you'll burn up. And so you have to oftentimes 03:05:00approach things very sort of dispassionately and very, and very technically, if you will, in order to do that. So I'm not I gotta be honest, as a as an as a person, as an individual, I probably don't do a very good job managing stress.

TS: One thing that you did mention in previous interviews was making origami birds. And it was something you did to pass the time you had mentioned that it's actually a secret. So it's all right ig you can't share, but do you have an actual number for how many origami birds you made throughout the pandemic?

AL: Yeah, I think I think I made close to 2000 birds. I made one mobile, which was 1000 birds. And that's a classic origami crane story up people who people should look it up. And I've given that to my, my youngest daughter since and so I put it in the box. And now it's it's hanging in her apartment,

03:06:00

TS: Very cool,

AL: as opposed to mine. And I don't know, it's not like, I guess maybe that was a stress management kind of thing. It was just a way to sort of take your mind off of things. And you can you can fold a lot of cranes watching television or a movie on the computer or something like that, because you can kind of multitask. But yeah, I made a lot of cranes and gave them away to friends. I have maybe 10 right now in my in my basket. I just haven't done anything with them.

TS: Alright thank you for sharing that. Um, then going back to when we were off campus during COVID. Can you describe what Webster Hall was like when you were working the front desk of the COVID dorm there?

AL: Yeah, I've talked about this a few times. And I don't want to completely overstate it. We had professionals who worked in that residence hall custodians, in particular come to mind. Mark Nylen, who runs Gruenhagan, there are a lot of 03:07:00folks who pitched in. I was there right at the very beginning as soon after it open because I felt as if there's somebody needed to be at the front desk, so a student could come down. And if they need it asked for it, it's amazing. You know, we went on toothpaste and toothbrush runs, things like that we had to go get some basic toiletries for students because they either didn't have them or didn't bring them over from their room. And so for the the the day and a half or however long I was there. I wanted to get a sense of what was happening because I had heard a lot about this place. And at the same time make the point that we needed to staff the front and that's the reason why I did it and the food service provider at the time Sodexo they did a I thought they did a great job of providing great variety and and consistency with food that you know that the 03:08:00interior lobby of I can still remember in my mind's eye. The interior lobby of of Webster you know I had one section that was for all the frozen food that you could take you could take frozen food out and and use a microwave oven in your room or you had had a big sort of cornucopia of fruits and, you know, granola bars and other kinds of snacks in the center and and on there, there was some hot food, that they could take sandwiches other kinds of entrees that were hot that you needed to kind of eat soon. So I was just interested in the mechanics of it, and students would come down, and some students hardly looked sick at all, but they were, they had tested positive, and other students looked terrible. They look terrible, many students lost their sense of taste, and smell. I hope that everybody was able to get it back. I think, I think that's 03:09:00pretty standard that they did. And, and there were there, then there were the parents, we had a lot of parents who took great interest in their kids, what they would do is they would sit outside in lawn chairs outside the windows where their kids were, their students were and the parents would visit with their, with their student, which I thought was pretty adorable, to be perfectly honest. Yeah. But they were very interested.

GL: When you were at the front desk coming, describe what that first floor looked like, I mean, was there food on the first floor.

AL: Yes, there was. So in Webster Hall of the you know that these the CA desks or the front desks are usually behind glass, there's usually holes cut and yo can pass things through. So it's hard to hear people, oftentimes, a separate door, the we have to remember that residence hall was not being used at the time we utilized it. And so the office was kind of a mess, I gotta be honest, the 03:10:00first day I cleaned up the office, you know, I threw things away, I moved piles of furniture out of out of the office, you know, into other parts of the building so that you could sort of declutter the office. And so I tried to kind of set it up that way. And then the lights were on, you know, you had your lights on, and normally the lights wouldn't be on. And so that right outside that, that, that window to the right was the were the front doors of the of the building. And again, you know, you'd have GrubHub, and other food delivery services would come. And they would, they would come to the front desk. And, and that's one of the reasons why I think they were also doing a lot of texting, but they know I was trying to help them connect with what student was where, then they would leave the food in the lobby and then leave, and then the student would come down and grab the bag of food and head up. So there's a lot of GrubHub going on. And so then you look straight out there was that lobby that had all of the food in it. And then to the left, where the staircases and the 03:11:00elevators that went up.

GL: Did any of the students recognize you?

AL: A couple did. I mean, but I was just so outrageously out of context. I was just wearing a normal polo shirt, you know, with a logo where maybe some khakis and didn't wear a nametag or anything I just looked, you know, like the guy behind the desk. And so, you know, I've often commented that, if I'm not wearing a suit, I can walk across this campus, and very few people recognize me. It's simply because they I think that the clothing is more identifiable than the person.

GL: Do they say anything?

AL: Yeah. A lot of students said, thank you, you know, appreciate you being here. And you know, I always ask, how are you doing? And, you know, are you able to keep up with your classes? And, you know, so this small talk that would go on and, and then the other students, you know, everybody was everybody was great.

TS: Nice. All set with that? So then moving away from when we were off of 03:12:00campus, and when we're getting ready to come back to campus, how did the state and county officials get involved to prepare the campus to be open for public safety use?

AL: Well, they didn't. It was us that did that. As a matter of fact, a state and county were involved with the campus. After we evacuated the campus in March, sent everybody home the month of April, was consumed with the activities of inventory in our buildings. We made a very slick video of the equipment that was housed over in the College of Nursing including two ventilators that we have as a part of our nurse anesthetist program. We were preparing the campus to be occupied by community people. The state had contacted us and the county and they wanted, they wanted to create shelters for people in the community who were who 03:13:00had COVID that they could be housed on our campus. So we made available Gruenhagen, Scott. And actually that's another story that I mentioned. And this is just purely out of sympathy for our custodians that my wife Karen and I went over and clean residence halls rooms one day, in preparation of community people moving in. So then there was a lot of paperwork that was done with Department of Administration at the state level, because if we're going to use our facilities for this type of purpose, then we have to worry about things like indemnification, indemnification liability. You know, what happens if someone were hurt or injured or somehow passed away in one of our facilities, all those kinds of arrangements were made at the state level. And then we were ready to go and the facilities were never used. No one ever moved in. They did a similar approach in Madison, and there were six or seven individuals who moved into the 03:14:00residence halls, they oftentimes were associated with the hospital, they would work at the hospital, but didn't want to go home because they were worried about contaminating their own families. And so they would take up residence in these residence halls on the on the Madison campus. And it turned out only to be a handful. So it was a lot of work to prepare, but at the same time, it demonstrated our willingness to work with a state and county officials for the benefit of the of the citizens.

TS: Thank you. And then when Governor Thompson declared to you that the UW system would be back in the fall of 20, did you agree with his stance right away that it was right for us to go back? And why did you feel the way you did?

AL: I did absolutely. I, I felt that the whatever risks that we were taking on would be would be worth it. In terms of of the we at that point, we were already getting a sense of the incredible toll on mental health that was occurring, the 03:15:00toll on learning that was occurring. And I, I felt that we were better, we could do a better job of taking care of the students than they could if they were just randomly scattered about, you know, out in the out in the towns and across the state. Simply because we had the facilities at that point more was known about COVID. As we started bringing people back, this is long before a vaccine was even a twinkle and I know we were all working on it when they were working on it. But we weren't counting on a vaccine when we came to open. So we started in earnest the process of opening the university say even as early as June of 2020. I came back from, I stayed off campus in the month of March, April and May in parts of June and and I was back full time after that. And we've not yet pulled people back from furlough yet. We pulled the people who were continuously 03:16:00furloughed back into their jobs in the month of August, because we needed ever we needed to be at full force for the students, which would be back on campus in the fall. To my knowledge, we didn't lose a single employee who was continuously furloughed. They all came back. Now, I believe that's correct. I'm sure HR could confirm that. So we didn't lose anybody in that way, which I was was grateful for. And then people were glad to be back. So Governor Thompson made the announcement. I certainly agreed with it. And all of that was going to be predicated on testing. And at the time, there was two forms and then still has two forms of testing, there's antigen testing. And then there's PCR testing, and PCR testing. It was is the gold standard still is the most reliable form, very 03:17:00low failure rate to it. It's expensive, and it takes time. Certainly then it took a day or two or three. I remember, you know, people were so backlogged that you you take seven days to get back a result. And at that point, it was pointless to have it so we knew that we wouldn't have access to PCR tests, Madison ran completely on their own PCR tests, they, they refused to do any antigen testing. At the time, there was a New York Times articles coming out about how bad antigen testing was, and that how inaccurate was a lot of false false negatives. And I, I happen to be probably the first chancellor who said I want to use these tests, because I did understand that it's really how you use them if I if people if you just test a person one time. What we knew then was that if they tested positive, chances are they're very positive and they were 03:18:00that was then confirmed with a PCR. If they tested negative that test was wrong about 50% of the time. And if they tested negative and had symptoms, they automatically got a PCR test. So symptoms were a big determinate determiner as to whether or not you what how we were going to test you. So we had both antigen which and PCR, we use PCR more sparingly the antigen more and as I had stated previously, we caught the attention of the Center for Disease Control CDC, who at the time simply had not dealt with enough antigen tests to determine what its its efficacy, efficacy or reliability was. And so a lot of data was taken from our testing center, and used in CDC studies to determine the efficacy of those tests.

TS: You had mentioned being one of the first Chancellor's before and I'm just curious, what made you decide to be at the forefront of these new operations 03:19:00being presented to the UW system? Was it just your belief that they would work? Or could you elaborate on that for me?

AL: Well, quite frankly, I was the only ssz of all the chancellors. And I felt that the the way that the case was being made against antigen testing, which was primarily in the popular press by individuals who may not necessarily at least the journalists that were doing or that don't necessarily have a science background, I thought was a little unfair. I felt and I was also buoyed by the confidence of people on this campus who felt that we could design a testing paradigm that would that would mitigate the some of the weaknesses of the test. Did we get it right in every instance? Absolutely not. You know, if you're testing students enough times, over a longer period of time, you know, generally speaking, we were we were bending the arc in the right direction, that we had a 03:20:00much better handle on, on who was sick and how did they get sick? Through the disease investigation and the contact tracing. So I felt good about our chances of I'll be honest, I was the very first chancellor who said, yeah, you know, I would want them, there are some chancellors who said, we would prefer not to use them, and I, my attitude was, so send your allotment to us.

TS: And then eventually,

AL: I don't want to land on all that too hard, because I have a lot of respect for my colleagues.

TS: Absolutely.

AL: But it's in the end, almost everybody came around, there was still still still some people were very skeptical about the use of those even after we started using them.

TS: But then eventually, we were actually recognized for our efforts in combating COVID. And how validated out validating was it for you, when the US Surgeon General came to visit our campus and recognize our campuses efforts?

AL: Not at all I wasn't, I didn't feel validated or any need to be validated to 03:21:00be perfectly honest. I, that just wasn't the emotion. I was delighted. And I was delighted for people like Kurt Liebold and Kim Langolf who spent hours far more time working on this project on that specific aspect. And I didn't work on it at all, other than I asked for it. But I didn't I wasn't the one. But there were there was great pride to be taken in the fact that that we figured out how to use those those tests in such a manner which we I felt we had a better control, a better handle on our COVID cases on this campus. And by the way, those a lot of those techniques and processes were adopted by other institutions. You know, there was a lot of information sharing, and we learned some things from other people too. But I was I didn't feel any need to be validated that wasn't slighted in any way that I needed to be validated.

TS: All right. And then moving back again a little bit when we were first coming 03:22:00back to campus full time after being away for so long. What was it like for you to make that return? And when exactly did you make your return to campus full time.

AL: I started coming back in, in the June time period, not every day. At that point, we were about to ask a lot of people to come back. And so I felt that I needed in the same way I left campus because we wanted to ask all non essential workers not to be on campus, right. And I'm not essential. I mean, I can do my job from my house and not miss a beat. And so I wanted to, again, it was always about trying to, to demonstrate by through through example, but what I'd like to see happen, so I went home and stayed home until such time as it was time to come back. Then I needed to be back on campus because I needed to encourage people and to show people that in fact, it was safe to be on campus. You needed 03:23:00to be wearing your mask. You needed to avoid being in crowds, which we didn't seem to have a problem with. There were no crowds on this campus, that time period. And so at that point, we had also learned another very important aspect of this disease and that is at first we used to wipe everything down there was these wet wipes everywhere. And, you know, we want, we have custodians who go around and do nothing but wipe doorknobs. And it turns out that none of that mattered, that that was just simply not the vector, the way that that the disease was, was transmitted. And so once you didn't have to worry about everything you touched, per se, then things got, life got a lot easier.

TS: And then when we did make that return, you actually taught a class on campus. First, could you tell me just some factual stuff about the class such as, what the class was? How many students were in the class? And what time the 03:24:00class was at?

AL: It was in the morning? No, no, oh, geez. You know, I gotta be honest, maybe it was early afternoon.

TS: You can give us, we can always go back and look for it.

AL: Yeah, maybe 1245 was a two hour lab. There were in the standard laboratories section in chemistry, there'll be 24 students. And so the way in chemistry that my colleagues in chemistry were very clever, in how they did this. They rotated labs. In other words, there was an, we had two sets of 12 students each. So it wasn't, we didn't put 24 in a room, we put 12 in a room. And so on one week, the first group of 12 would come to lab, the other group of 12 would be at home and they would do what's called a dry lab. So they get data or something like that, but they'd have to do some kind of calculation and turn that in. And then the next week, they would swap. So that's how the class was run. They, of course, 03:25:00the my colleagues in the chemistry department did all of the work in terms of prep, I would arrive and normally get a very brief a very brief introduction to some of the salient points because I would always, of course, read the lab. And I remember a lot of these labs from when I was teaching, but it was Mihalik not Mihalick. Jennifer. Not Jennifer Mihalick, the chair of Jonathan Gutow and Mihalick. Okay, it's right. Okay, why am I having a brain break?

TS: You had it on the first try.

AL: Jennifer if you are listening I'm so sorry. Jennifer was great. And she was very nice and and very helpful. So yeah. And then it was, you know, you conducted the labs, and you were wearing an n95 mask and students had to wear both masks and goggles, which by the way, is very difficult, because the goggles 03:26:00fogged up. So that was sort of a constant struggle in that class. So that's how we did it. And I was grateful for the my colleagues in chemistry for assisting me in this, I will say that I believe in the two times I've taught this, this course this is just a laboratory course. It's chemistry 105. Each time I was able to make every single lab normally, you know, I always had to arrange to have somebody take over in case I had to leave for some reason, because my schedule can be quite predictive, unpredictable. But I always made every lab section. And so you know, I, I took a little bit of pride in that. That I followed through on it.

GL: You met once a week?

AL: Yes.

TS: When you met for the very first time on your first day of class, what was it like being in a room with students that hadn't been in an in person class instruction for half of a year? What was like the aura of the room like?

AL: I think people were, on the one hand, we're glad to be back. But on the 03:27:00other hand, it was just so utterly alien to them. You know, it just like I say, everybody was covered up, you know, very depopulated, that there weren't a lot of things to do on campus. We weren't meeting, clubs weren't meeting at least not not face to face, they were virtually, food services for the most part were closed, that kind of thing. So it wasn't it wasn't a very nice experiment experience. And but I think people liked the idea of being back, you know, to the limited extent that we could be.

TS: With those students that you had in your class, how did you initially interact with them in class? And how did that ever change when they eventually discovered that you were actually the Chancellor of the University? Yeah,

AL: This has happened twice now. I don't, I don't put that out there, right away. Except I'm wearing a suit.

TS: You stand out a little.

AL: Yeah, in you know, I'm wearing a lab coat. I take my jacket off, put the lab 03:28:00coat so now I look like a physician. You know, I look like you know, next please. So there's a few students who know, most people don't know who the chancellor is, nor do they care, nor should they, for that matter. And so I don't necessarily wear it on my sleeve and some of them figure it out pretty quickly. And I have to say there are a few students who will go through the entire semester and never know who I am. They're just just totally out of it. But I'll say usually, you know, halfway or two thirds of the way through the semester, I'll you know, when they really the jig is up, I'm oftentimes I'll ask them, I'll ask them questions about their experience as sort of as a class. You know, how's it going with with COVID? And, you know, what could we be doing differently? And it's, I'd use them as a little, little sounding board. So I think they, they appreciated that. So I had a Alyssa Nore was actually, she was 03:29:00a student in a section before COVID, four years ago. She was on the women's gymnastics team. They won the National Championship last spring. And I happen to I went to Ithaca, New York to see that, and it was really a great experience. Alyssa remembered me. And she went off to, she's applying to med school, I think she I don't know where she is right now. But that last spring, as she asked me if I could write her a letter of recommendation, which I seldom ever do. And the reason is, I just don't know people enough at that level, to warrant a credible letter. Except I had her in class. And she's a national champion. You know, I didn't, I was happy to write the letter. And I'm not quite sure where she's at right now but she was a very, very smart student, for sure.

TS: All right, thank you for sharing that with us. And then kind of moving away from that classroom setting during the September of 2020. When we did first 03:30:00return to campus, were you confident and sure that you wanted everyone to stay this entire semester? Or was there ever a time that you had to consider closing once again?

AL: I never considered closing. But wow there were the white knuckle days, it was in the middle of September was about the time I went over to that, that residence hall, the number of positives and because we when we opened up that that testing facility, right before the students started coming back, so that would be late August, you know, I got daily reports of how many tested positive how many were negative, how many tests that we give. So we were getting, I don't know, 50 or 60 tests, and we'd have like one positive Oh, in those first few days, as the students start to come back, that's going to like, well, this is great. This is fantastic. By September 15, we were having over 100 students test positive a day. And you've just feel like the the there's a tidal wave that's crashing on you. And you do, doubting is not the right the right word. But you 03:31:00do second guess yourself. Did I make the right decision? Should we should we pull the plug on this? Because there are a couple of other UW's that did pause in that first fall as the numbers started to really escalate. And what they did was confined students to residence hall rooms for a week. And I found that it's sort of extraordinary in and of itself. I'm not sure how well it went. But Madison did. Eau Claire did, some others did. And it worked for them, they were able to tamp down their, their numbers pretty quickly, our numbers ran a little higher, actually. But at the same time, as we were putting students in the residence halls for for them to convalesce to get through the the part a process here, we weren't finding the students were getting that sick. You know, like I 03:32:00said, some of them look terrible. And that's true. They looked like they had the flu. But most seem to be weathering it quite well. And we did monitor auto all of these students every day. And that was what the student health department is student, our Student Health Clinic did was help monitor these these students. So yes, I remember one of those days when it was really peaking high. I was out on the front lawn in front of Clow on my cell phone with Tommy Thompson. And he was like, Chancellor, what the hell's going on over there? And I said, Well, you know, we've gotten a bit of, you know, a bit of a spike here. I said, we I'm checking with EOC and others, that people were actually doing the work and they say, they think we can handle it. And so he said, great, you know, carry on, you know, so that was, that's what that was our reaction to it. And it did, if you I don't know if you ever have any access to any of that data anymore, but at the peak was just really a beautiful, sort of Gaussian peak, very symmetric, and it 03:33:00started to come down pretty quickly after that. It never got anywhere near that high. I have every confidence that when Omicron came around, which finally got me last January that you know, at that point testing was all over the place because students could test themselves or or not, not even test There was probably far more cases of Omicron than we ever had of the native COVID-19

TS: Interesting. And then, in one of your last interviews, you mentioned the part of your job that you had really missed the most or enjoyed the most and then missed went away. It was meeting face to face with community, people, alumni and business leaders in the community. When did you finally get to start having those meetings again in person? And how did it feel to finally see those people you hadn't seen in months?

AL: Well, a little scary at first, because we adhered to COVID prevention 03:34:00standards far longer than the community did. So that made you nervous, because you're wearing a mask all day on campus and then you go into Bar 430 to meet some people who, you know, are alumni, and none of them, no one's wearing a mask. And so at first, I was glad to see everybody. But at first, it was a little scary, because I have to say that most folks were pretty cavalier about it, you know, we we kept up our guard, far longer, well, into the spring of, excuse me, the fall of 21. I mean, we started last year with masks, and we went through that we finally gave him up at Spring Break, I think, you know, it was, you know, a long time. And we were I mean, you're a student, you you probably wore your mask on campus and took it off when you left campus. So shocked and horrified probably would have been my reaction that, you know, because we're so 03:35:00conditioned to, to wear the mask and then to see go out into the shopping centers and not see even a soul wearing them. You know, it was a little disconcerting. Glad to see everybody, though. I mean, and now you know, it's back back to normal, so I'm glad to where we're all together again.

TS: We, so I guess kind of related to that back to normal. We asked you this in the last interview, but one year later, do you believe we're approaching normalcy and how we interact and conduct business on campus? Or maybe there isn't a return to normal? And now we have to just accept COVID as a part of our new normal? How do you feel about that?

AL: I think we are back to normal in the sense that I can't think of a single thing that anyone does this necessarily informed by preventing COVID right now. Nothing. I mean, we're, you go into packed places all the time without a mask. You airlines, you don't need to wear them anymore. You know, all of us have somewhere in our closet have some COVID tests, perhaps, you know, I have my 03:36:00cache of masks. They're not really handy anymore, you know. So, I think that for that, for that part, I think we have simply accepted the fact that COVID is endemic. And matter of fact, I know, one of my, my vice chancellors right now has COVID and is at home for five days, and then we'll be masked for five days. And my I have a daughter who just got COVID not too long ago, and went through that. So it's just a fact of life that now with of course a huge innovation, are the vaccines, and I'm completely boosted whatever booster is out there I have. And I do that that way when I get COVID again, and it's going to be a win, not an if, that it won't kill me, it won't put me in the hospital, you know, and I'll, I'll have some days of unpleasantness, like if you had had the flu, and 03:37:00then you'll be back. And you know, that's the marvel of science, that we're able to this quickly come up with a defense against something that was could have easily killed one to 2% of the population of this planet, you know, if not more, and then you know, we've more or less stopped doing a lot of people die. But we've now more or less stopped in his tracks. It's going to be something else in in my lifetime, we'll have another pandemic of something similar, that we'll have to fight.

TS: Scary thought

AL: Probably three times in your lifetime.

TS: Yeah. And then returning to like the finances of campus, you gave a long, detailed explanation on the COVID monies the university had reserved from the federal government, right. We don't need to get into the actual finances too much. But you had mentioned the composite financial index. Right, and that we had lost our standing. Do you believe we would have recovered our standing in 03:38:00the composite finite financial index without the COVID funding that was coming into campus or was that sort of a bittersweet? Obviously, it was tough, but it was nice to have those finances coming in. Yeah, I think

AL: It's a matter of the rate of recovery. We were all well on our way to recovery prior to COVID hitting. We had done some really difficult things here. We cut nine and a half million dollars out of the budget in a three year period. That's on top of the seven and a half that we had cut when I first arrived. So what does that up to thats $17 million. And then we've cut other odds and ends here and there, I think we've cut close to 20 million since I've been here. So we know how to reduce expenses. But as you know, the big, big problem with we don't have a spending problem at this institution, we have a revenue problem. It's our revenue that changes faster than our spending. And so it's really hard to catch your tail, when you start that descent, and when you start to lose 03:39:00revenue, and you have to cut. So we've learned some really useful skills over the year. And these are skills I'm not particularly proud of. But you know how to how to cut massive amounts of money very quickly. So we were on the road to recovery. The ARPA and HERFF only helped accelerate the final healing, if you will, right, that we were able to get well into a, a healthy range with the composite financial index, which is very helpful for things like accreditation, and just overall financial standing. And at the same time, it's taken, we've had three years of two years, I should say, of reasonable financial stability, coming out of COVID. And then the year after COVID, we have some challenges now. And we don't know what the future will hold, given the the changing political 03:40:00landscape that we have this system, of course, has its request into legislature, the governor, and then the legislature for funding. And we'll have to see how how it's received.

TS: Great. And then, um, just some final facts, more fact finding questions. We're just wondering if you have access, or the if we're able to see the graphs on enrollment for campus over the last decade or so. So that we can have a kind of idea of where the enrollment was prior to during and after COVID. And then, um, do you know how much money was paid back to students for the dining and housing refunds?

AL: 6 million? I want to say 6 million, it was in that ballpark?

TS: Alright wonderful. And then I do believe that's all of the questions I have for you today.

GL: I just want to go back to one thing you said about how all the decisions you are the final decider. And what does that feel like? I mean, you are, are you're 03:41:00making a decision that affects, you know, 16,000 people, right? Describe to someone who only makes decisions for herself.

AL: Right. Well, I mean, to be fair, there are lots of decisions that are made. And there are smaller, more localized decisions I don't make. I don't make I'm not, uh, you know, I don't insist that everything, but the big ones are the ones that I make. And you have to have a certain degree of confidence, you know, that there have been decisions I've made here that have gone well, and there have been some that I've made it just gone off the rails. And, you know, the one of the nice things about baseball, if you can hit a baseball 30% of the time you're in the hall of fame. You know, I hope I do a little better than that, but its 03:42:00just part of the of the job the conditioning. I mean, you know, I've spent now 29 years and a career of increasing responsibility from one from one job to the next job to the next job that conditions you for this kind of work of executive decision making where you, you, you make the best decision you can with the information you have at hand, and then oftentimes, it's incomplete, and you get advice from people. That's good. But in the end, you're responsible for it and that people aren't going to remember who talked to you or whatever else. It's, it's, you know, how did they get? How did they go for you? So, you know, it's, again, part of the job you just you conditioned yourself but there's, there's just sort of detachment or dispassionate nature to it

GL: How do you sleep at night?

AL: I don't always sleep at night. I have not to get to, I have no problem going 03:43:00to sleep. But then oftentimes, I wake up in the middle of the night like 1:30 2 o'clock in the morning, and then that's it. I'm going to not go back to sleep. And I'm okay with that. It's funny, I don't get anxious anymore about not sleeping. You know, you spend time just like everybody else you spend time sort of reliving sort of the anxiety of things that you have to do or might be happening to you, the inner voices, other things like that, that people talk about, and then you have you know, so you kind of become friends with that in the sense that, you know, I just just know, I saw the clock this morning at 2:30 in the morning, and I knew that was it. And so,

GL: Looking back at your, your, how you responded to this global pandemic? I mean, just think. You know, I know, it's only two and a half years. But when you 03:44:00look back, and yeah, let's just say 10 years from now, 20 years from now, I mean, what, what do you think you're gonna see or feel about how you responded?

AL: Well, that's gonna be the one of the epitaphs on my gravestone, and the, you know, just being a leader in higher education during a pivotal time. So in the 1960s, every President has on their gravestone that I presided over the fastest growing period in the history of the institution. Here, we went from 2000 students to north of 12,000 students in about seven years, over the 1960s, up until the end of the Vietnam War. So every every every president in the country has that story. Because the Baby Boomers, that's when they went to college. I'm going to have navigated this institution through through COVID. And so are about 03:45:003000 other college university presidents, and chancellors, and, you know, I take great pride in what we did here, I will definitely look back with great pride because of the teams that were built. I still marvel at the the flexibility and the very, very positive attitude of faculty, students and staff, particularly in March of 2020. When we all knew we had to do something that was otherwise just impossible. And we did it. And people would, might argue we did it with varying degrees of success. And that's fair, you know, that didn't work really well, for everybody, that's for sure. But it worked well, it worked well enough. I should say, given the circumstances that we were in at a time that we had some degree of continuity, we we showed we defied the convention that that the that sort of 03:46:00the change rate of change of anything in higher education is usually about 30 years. We showed we could do it in two weeks. And so did a lot of other people, and then we did it with our own particular stamp and style. And as we unwound it in this in the fall, that's really when there were a lot more questions and a lot more anxiety was in the fall people coming back, and there was a lot of people really dependent upon the daily update of the graph of the COVID 19 testing. Yeah, the Deathwatch, exactly. And you know, there was a there's a funny moment, and I won't get into too much that the AT our newspaper Advanced Titan, and they had a reporter who wrote a scathing editorial about me personally, about how irresponsible I was to have been made made these decisions 03:47:00to keep people together in the fall of 20. And then wrote an apology, which, by the way, I did cut that out and have with me, its in one of my notebooks, wrote an apology about how he got it wrong. You know, and I don't hold any ill will against he was a very good journalist. He, he wrote an editorial, and then the actually, I appreciated his, his sort of his accountability for that. But it could have gone the other way. I mean, God forbid, what if people died? Started dying. And then you, you know, we had we had deaths that occurred on campus that were a direct result of decisions that I had made. That would have been and that was, that was always in the back of my mind, by the way, that's the sort of the darker context of decision making is that something could happen like that. It didn't. And I'm not to blame for or to take credit for that because I was just over the course of the disease. But I think we had some very good policies and 03:48:00procedures and practices in place that would have helped mitigate or prevent that.

GL: Is your is your skin thicker because of all of this?

AL: COVID and everything else? Yeah, you have to have pretty thick skin. You know, and sometimes you don't you know, sometimes, certainly how I react to things in public and in semi public where I'm like working with other with other colleagues is different than how I later reacted privately, or to my poor, long suffering wife, you know, who hears at all. So that may be the stress relief, is that having a companion at home that's willing to listen to all this crap.

TS: Yeah, yeah. Thank you so much for everything that you answered and gave us 03:49:00for the project. We're very happy to have had this interview with you. For the third time now, is there anything else you would like to add or say it before we go?

AL: I really appreciate it. It's been a lot of fun. I think this is going to be important work for the archives.