Interview with Art Munin, 05/26/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: This is Grace Lim interviewing Art Munin on May 26, 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?

AM: Art Munin ART MUNIN.

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

AM: My name is Art Munin. I'm Associate Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students.

GL: And before we dive into your campus COVID story. Could you just tell us a little bit about where you grew up?

AM: Sure! I'm from Chicago, grew up in the city on the south side of Chicago. Lived all my life in Illinois before venturing up here to the great state of Wisconsin six years ago. I have absolutely loved the transition, but Chicago will always be home.

GL: And where did you earn your degree or degrees?


AM: Sure. I did my undergraduate degree at Eastern Illinois University, did a bachelor's degree in psychology. And then I did two master's degrees. I went to Loyola University Chicago and did a Master's in Counseling, went to DePaul University did a master's in multicultural communication, and then went back to Loyola University and did my PhD in higher education.

GL: That's a lot of degrees.

AM: It was a bit it was a bit.

GL: And how did you come to work at UW Oshkosh?

AM: Saw the job posting. But the reason why the job posting especially stood out to me is that I had been to UWO several times before, I'm a diversity and justice educator. And about eight years ago now, actually, the Department of Residence Life hired me to come in and do training for the res hall staff. And I had just a fantastic experience and always stuck in my head as a particularly good experience. And when I saw the job posting pop open, it spoke to me I knew something about the community, we were actually looking to move to a place with lower cost of living a little easier, less urban, and it just fit.


GL: And you came what year in what position?

AM: 2014. At that time, it was Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students, my job title here has changed six or seven times in the six years I've been here, so it's been, I don't think I've had the same title for more than six months at a time I feel like.

GL: And what was your position right before COVID?

AM: Right before COVID I was still Associate Vice Chancellor. It was with COVID hitting in March of 22. On July of 22, or 20, I'm sorry, in March 2020. In July of 2020, I became interim vice chancellor

GL: And tell us what you, what does that mean? What are you responsible for?

AM: Sure, I was over the entire gamut of Student Affairs, which includes enrollment management, residence life, counseling, health center, student recreation, obviously Dean of Students, crisis response, you know, working closely with the EOC you know, nine departments you know, 70 to 80 staff, I 00:03:00think it's somewhere around $20 or $30 million, you know, a bunch of facilities so, definitely a big job. And then, on top of it, I was interim, so I was still doing large sections of my real job at the same time.

GL: Okay, so, um, prior to COVID, what was your, what were your biggest challenges.

AM: Um, you know, just, just students in the in the range of things that come up that are under the radar for most people, except for the Dean of Students Office, whether it be mental health, drugs, alcohol, assault, violence, you know, in a campus this size, barely a day goes by without something happening. And so, sometimes the Dean of Students Office can feel like the emergency room, and you never know what's going to walk in the door. Now, there's a part of me 00:04:00that loves that. I mean, I think to do this work for a long time, I've been working in a Dean of Students since 2006. You have to enjoy that work. But still, it's very, very difficult because of the, just the very awful things so many of our students need to overcome in order to be a student in higher ed.

GL: So, again, you cover so many things that your office does, and it just, I don't know if you can go through just a typical day of what it was like before COVID

AM: Sure, the typical days there is no typical day, but I can give you snapshots. You know, we oversee all Title IX response for students, so we're talking sexual violence, domestic violence, stalking. We also respond to bias cases and we you know, coordinate the response for that. We have normal run of the mill student conduct cases which happened in the 1000s every year from alcohol and drugs to things as simple as, you know, violations of noise hours 00:05:00and quiet hours in the residence halls. And then the mental health stuff, you know, whether it be a late withdrawal, late drop, advocating for students with their faculty in order to get academic flexibility, doing out of class letters. It's a lot and it's nonstop. In addition to that all of us are on call I'm on call 24 hours a day. So, you know, while luckily doesn't happen with regularity, I do get woken from overnight, you know, because we have students very sadly, we have students die. You know, we have horrific things that occur. And the Dean of Students Office is the focal point of communication, care, coordination. All the, all the logistics that go into it, while still being empathetic and caring. It's definitely something that is all encompassing.


GL: You said that you have, so how many people did you oversee? I mean, do you oversee?

AM: Well, just in the Dean of Students Office, I have four Associate Dean's and an office manager and an Accessibility Coordinator.


But then you said you have a staff of

AM: When I was Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, I oversaw everyone in student affairs, so all departments all everything. In my current job here, as Associate Vice Chancellor, I supervise the Dean of Students Office, obviously, but I also supervise Student Recreation, Counseling Center, Health Center and Residence Life.

GL: And, and how many people are there?

AM: Oh, that's got to be somewhere 40 to 50. I mean, I don't have direct contact with many of them, like, you know, for residence life, there's a lot of people that work there, but I supervise the director, and I'll have contact with some of the staff sometimes, but not often.

GL: Okay, so let's move on to the early days of COVID.

AM: Sure

GL: Do you remember the first time you heard about this virus?


AM: I do. It wouldn't have stuck in my head if COVID didn't become what it was. I heard something on a news story, early in the morning, and then it couldn't have been past 8:30 and Martin Rudd came into my office and said, "Hey, have you heard about this COVID stuff?" And I said, Yeah, and, you know, there was a big concern at the Fox Cities campus because of the large number of international students they have, you know, the overwhelming majority being from China. And he was asking me, like, "I want to pull together a meeting, who do you think should be there?" And I just rattled off the list of people I thought should be there. He's like, "Okay, be on the lookout for a meeting." And I think we had a meeting later that afternoon.

GL: And Martin is?

AM: Martin is the Assistant Chancellor over the access campuses.

GL: And when do you think that was?

AM: Oh, you know, it had to be at the end of February in 2020.

GL: And, when you initially heard about the this virus, what was going through 00:08:00your head?

AM: Nothing? Nothing at all, you know, thought it was the flu. I thought it was, you know, a news story for a few days, I didn't really think much of it.

GL: So did you think that when Martin asked for this meeting, that it was maybe a little overreaction?

AM: A little bit, honestly, you know, I, one problem with being a Dean of Students is like, we all got to remind ourselves sometimes not to be too calloused to crises because we deal with them so often, you know, when people come in and say, "This is a crisis". I mean, sometimes it goes to my head, I'm like, this isn't really a crisis. Right. You know, I understand it's a concern, but I can tell you what a crisis is. So I didn't think was much I mean, but I've had these things happen before, I can remember years ago, when there were several Ebola cases that hit the United States, and I was working in central Illinois at the time, and we had some international students coming from Ghana, 00:09:00which had a few Ebola cases and I remember going to a meeting about that. And I remember thinking during that meeting, this this is nothing. I mean, you know, there's nothing to worry about. So I've had these things before. I also coordinated when I was at the Dean of Students Office at DePaul University. I coordinated the response to that bird flu. Gosh, there was that other flu that went around

GL: Norovirus

AM: Not norovirus,


AM: Yeah SAMS. I coordinated the response for that, and we and we provided the inoculations on campus. And yeah, we also had norovirus on campus here a couple of years ago and I helped coordinate the response for that, so I've had these things come up before. I always just felt like, well, it'll be just like anything else. It's manageable.

GL: So let's go to the early March,

AM: Yeah.

GL: and then things started ramping up,

AM: Yup.

GL: and some universities started closing. What's in your mind now?


AM: You know, I was probably slower to thinking we needed to shut down. I, I still thought containment was a possibility, I still thought the sickness not being that bad was a possibility. And so I probably, I advocated longer for us to stay in session with remediation measures if needed. But eventually, turned the corner, you know, probably mid-March or so to understand, this is a step we need to take one because of health and wellness. But anybody who says to you that politics doesn't play a role is lying. If you're going to end up being the only university that's open, at some point, that's also a problem. So you don't 00:11:00want to follow the herd all the time. But if you're going to be an outlier, you better be right. And I wasn't convinced we were right, and so it wasn't worth the risk.

GL: And then when we actually did send everybody home,

AM: Yeah

GL: most everybody home, who did you work with the most closely regarding your response?

AM: Sure. I mean, the EOC Kurt Leibold. You know, Kurt was on the search committee when I got hired, he and I have always been close. And I come from a cop family, so I always talk cop pretty well. And so Kurt, my dean of students, staff, I mean I can remember, I can remember clearly, the Dean of Students staff meeting on the day we said, we were going home, and I can remember my staff member Kiersten because she referenced this often over the past few years, she asked me, she's like, how long do you think we're gonna be gone for? And I said, you know, I can't really tell, if you were to ask me to make a educated guess right now, the rest of the semester, and we'll be back in May. That's what I said. And obviously, I was slightly off. But work closely with EOC, work closely 00:12:00with the provost, Bob Roberts, you know, Chancellor, just meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting. And then also IT because all of us were worried, justifiably so, about our students' ability to get online, because so many of them were impacted by that living in rural communities and not having access in the same way.

GL: So in your office, I mean, when you had to bring your team together, you're into the, Hey, yeah, this is happening.

AM: Yeah

GL: You know, what did you talk about? I mean, how are you going to be able to do the work that you do in the Dean's office?

AM: Yeah, I honestly didn't know at that point. I, nobody had ever used Microsoft Teams. But you know, we became familiar with it really quickly. The toggle to online, on my side of things was probably the easiest part of this 00:13:00transition. It just, it just became a new way of doing business. You know, I've often remarked that our students sometimes had the easiest time with that, because they, you know, they're the most technologically savvy. And so, you know, that toggle really didn't interrupt stuff too much, except for a couple outliers. So lots of conversation was about residence life, you know, the residence hall directors live on campus, right. We have custodians, who still had to come to work. We have the student health center that had a very just interesting role throughout all of this. So there was some individualization in there, too. And then, you know, eventually we got to the conversations of the layoffs for the summer, which was heart wrenching.

GL: Before we got there.


AM: Sure

GL: There were like you mentioned some of the people that had to be here, the custodial staff, these, you know, the police department. Were you among the people that had to do your job in person on campus?

AM: No, I was home. I was home pretty quickly after I mean, yeah, I think I think when we sent everyone home, that was the last time I was on campus.

GL: And when did you come back full fully on in person.

AM: Wow. I mean, when the announcement was made, that we were able I started coming in episodically once or twice a week. I can't remember the date off top my head though.

GL: And then. So we're talking, let's talk about the March through the end of the semester, what were your challenges then?

AM: Getting students to interface with classes? There was the technology issues, the managing of move out of the residence hall, the managing of refunds for 00:15:00residence hall money for those students that we didn't have, we didn't have that money. And, you know, it's just a part of the history of how everything works together the year before COVID. As people likely know, UWO had significant financial issues, and one of the ways they solve that issue is that they went to board of regents and asked for permission, which was granted to take $5 million from the reserves of Residence Life and put it into the accounts of the university to right the ship. Made sense, I supported it. A year later, COVID hits and we got to refund everyone their money, and I mean we've been made whole since then, because of all the HERF funding that's come through. But we were absolutely in the red. But there was no way to worry about that at that moment. So, you know, there was just that management of it, managing the just full range 00:16:00of anxieties and fears everyone was having. About their job, would it be safe, would they have a job, if they have to come on campus for something how does that work? Just a lot of a lot of staff management.

GL: The monies that were returned to the students. I mean, do you? Do you remember how much we're talking about?

AM: It was a couple million dollars? I have close to 2 million in my head, but that could be off.

GL: Okay. And then. And then, you know, before we move on, actually, prior to COVID I mean, what's the number of cases that you get from students every year? Would you? I mean, do you guys have that number?

AM: Oh, like, I mean for a

GL: A normal year.

AM: Yeah, I mean, like Student Care team. We're talking, you know, 2 or 3 thousand for conduct, you know, somewhere around there too, late withdrawals. 00:17:00You know, 150 to 200 a semester. And then there's just an incountable number of small contacts that happen all the time that we don't even log, you know, I get an email from a student, and I answer a question that happens. You know, we position the Dean of Students Office as, if you have a question or concern, and you don't know where to go, that means you're supposed to go to the Dean of Students Office. So we are the kitchen sink of the university, we get everything. And we always tell students, we won't send you away, we'll work with you to find a solution.

GL: I have to admit, I've sent students to your office

AM: We appreciate it.

GL: because I don't know where to go.

AM: Yeah, absolutely. That's what we're here for.

GL: So, um, the, okay, I think we've got to cover that. So come, during the summer, I mean, what happened during the summer? What to your team?

AM: Yeah. So that's when we did the layoffs. And so, I can tell you, probably 00:18:00one of the worst days of my professional career was sitting down with an Excel spreadsheet. And I can remember, like, my office at home was in the basement, and I came upstairs and talked to my partner, and I was crying. Because it hurts so bad, to highlight people that I knew they were gonna get laid off. And then it hurt even worse, to highlight names of people that I don't know. And getting, and their getting laid off. You know, I was surprised that that actually hurt worse, because I was like, I don't even know this person, and I've just made a decision that they're not gonna get paid for at least three months. And all the value feelings that are part of that of you weren't chosen as essential right now. Whereas someone else in your department was, um, that was heart wrenching. Absolutely heart wrenching.

GL: How many people were we talking about? Meaning


AM: Think it was 87. The number stuck in my head.

GL: And the reason for these layoffs?

AM: We were in financial duress. And also, there also was much less to do, right. I mean, the students were gone. There was no one in the residence halls. Student Recreation wasn't open. So from a service standpoint, the service needs were not there.

GL: And these are continuous furloughs.

AM: Oh yeah, yep. And then there was the intermittent furloughs that everyone else got, you know, of one day every two weeks.

GL: And how did those come? Did you talk to these people?

AM: I didn't talk to each individual one. It kind of went down, it went down the lines where basically the directors of each department conveyed that. And you just like, you know, you feel all the interconnections there, you know, one of 00:20:00my Associate Dean's, her daughter works in Residence Life, and we all work very closely together. And my Associate Dean didn't get laid off, but her daughter did. And it's just hard, really hard. And some people were angry and let me know they were angry. And that was their right.

GL: Coming into the fall of 2020, how did, what's happening then with you and your department?

AM: Yeah, we are having debates slash I will even go so far as saying fights, about testing. Constant conversation about testing, because the plan we wanted to use was counter to what the CDC recommended, because we wanted to do surveillance testing. Now, history has shown we were right. But at that time, 00:21:00our health center was against it. The community health agencies were against it. They're like, that's not CDC guidelines. And I sat down, I talked to folks repeatedly, and I said, you know I gotta tell you, this intuitively just does not make sense to me what you're arguing for. You're arguing that we shouldn't test anybody. Because, if we do test people, mistakes will be made, and some folks who are positive won't get caught as positive, nut in your plan, everybody who's positive doesn't get caught as positive. Here, even if we bat, you know, 80%, we're making a positive impact, I can't understand why that isn't a good, especially when your plan means we do nothing. And so we ended up deciding to, you know, go our own way, and we and we did it differently than everybody in the 00:22:00UW system. And this was, this was a time where we did stand alone, and it was a risk. But it I didn't feel, and I know Kurt didn't and I know Andy didn't. We didn't feel that it was really a risk, because it just made sense. And it worked. It was a pain in the butt. You know, having the discussions about how we're going to enforce that. And, you know, the Dean of Students Office, you know, we carry the unfortunate Hollywood moniker of, you know, Animal House, and, you know, you know, the authoritative disciplinarians, and in our hearts, we're not that right. But for COVID, we became the enforcement squad. And so we were doing conduct cases, we were following up with people. I mean, it was a running joke about Art as the mask police on campus, because I started walking through the library every day, because the library was a big hot place where 00:23:00people weren't wearing masks, and I was going around and writing people up. And I didn't enjoy it. You know, I don't I didn't get into this to be that Dean.

GL: So, coming into the fall, where your, were you in person?

AM: Yeah, I think semi in person. I think I was still home sometimes.

GL: And then your staff?

AM: They were home? Yeah, they, you're talking about fall of '20?

GL: Fall of '20.

AM: I might have been just home to you know, I think I was, I think all of us were still home. I think we were all really remote then.

GL: How were you able to handle all the cases that you were getting prior to COVID that I'm sure the cases continue to come in.

AM: Yeah, yeah, no. I mean, as best you can, I mean, the Dean of Students Office just does it. I mean, it I mean, in some ways, all of our other normal work plummeted, you know, because the residence halls were so highly, I'm gonna use 00:24:00the word policed in that students weren't allowed to hang out in each other's rooms like our alcohol and weed cases went down. Our title IX cases went down. There was almost no bias cases. I'm sure bias occurred, but we didn't get any cases. So all of our other normal work did significantly decrease.

GL: Fall 2020, what was the number of students that came back you know living in the residence halls?

AM: I mean, we were, we were low. I mean, I would guess, somewhere 17, 18 hundred. Our capacity on campus is 3100.

GL: Okay,

AM: Now we were always low because our enrollments been down recently, but that was definitely a low watermark.

GL: Okay. So, you know. We talked about, you know, things that your team has done and, and I mean, what can you point to, aside from that thing about 00:25:00standing, you know, taking that risk, which wasn't really a risk regarding the testing anything else since on your mind, and how your team or you responded to the COVID situation here at Campus, that you're actually like proud of,

AM: Yeah, I am really proud of the care we provided to students. I mean, our toggle to online in the counseling center was smooth and seamless, and our students really appreciated it. And I think we all were surprised by how just still continually, continued beneficial that was, in addition to the health center because the health center started doing telehealth, we've never done telehealth before. And it's something we're going to continue doing, you know, it's going to be a continued thing we offer. So I think that we did that particularly well. See, I would highlight this just overall student care, we had a great plan set up also to provide care for our students who were in quarantine and isolation. That will, that was another thing we learned. Our first plan was 00:26:00we had a residence hall that was closed, we had Webster Hall. And we made that the isolation place where you go to have COVID. And it turned into animal house. There was no supervision, everybody had COVID, so what's the harm in just partying and hanging out? So I started doing rounds in that building. Andy actually worked the front desk sometimes. And then we decided to make the change to move to GCC, because there was at least staff around then and it changed the whole dynamic, but it definitely turned into a party U there.

GL: What, are your, is your staff still holding online meetings with students?

AM: Yeah, there's a lot online, students prefer it, makes it easier. They don't have to come to campus, or you know, there's no commute time having to walk over to someone to come in person, but there's a lot that's still just like the virtual. So I would say, we're fully hybrid, probably about half.


GL: So do you think that's gonna stay?

AM: Yeah, I do. And it's easy, it works.

GL: So, anything else regarding the, you know, does this, how your work has changed because of this pandemic?

AM: Ah, I think just a greater appreciation for the work flexibility, I would never have thought that I would grow so comfortable with staff I supervised working from home on a regular basis, and now I'm completely comfortable with it. Like my staff, my Dean of Students staff are working from home this summer, two days a week. And, and fully comfortable with them doing it. I think they are just as productive, if not more so.

GL: During the spring semester of this semester, 2022 Did everybody work in person?

AM: Yeah. Everybody worked in person I think this whole year. Yeah, it was the whole year.

GL: So in the fall of 2021, by this time, you know, vaccines are readily 00:28:00available. What were your initial thoughts about vaccines, you personally.

AM: I was excited. I mean, I got mine the first day I could. My wife works in K 12 education, so she got hers, like, at least a month before me. I was very excited. I was, you know, just continually hopeful that it was going to make everything magically go away. You know, I knew it wouldn't, but you know, I was kind of hoping like, okay, we're another step closer. I did think that when the vaccine hit, I thought we were coming to the end, and again, was wrong.

GL: We're two and a half years, more than two and a half years past the time that we were actually sent home. How much do you feel like we're getting back to normal or some sort of normal?

AM: Yeah, I don't think so yet and I don't know when we're going to turn the corner on that. There is still just trauma. You know, this was a mass trauma 00:29:00event. And I don't think that we can even begin to assess any kind of normalcy until the amount of time has passed, that the trauma occurred, and in some ways the trauma is still occurring. So the clock is still ticking on COVID, it's not done yet, so I don't even know if we've started the healing process and I think some of us have a bit. But even if we said it was over right now, I'd say asked me two and a half years if it's done, because it's going to take that long to heal. Like I don't know how many times I've said over the past year, trying to make it about me in order to make it more comfortable for other people, but just being very truthful saying I am not the best version of myself. I am not. You know COVID ravaged my family. The mental health toll on it was far worse than the physical health toll. Being in that interim role, having everything going 00:30:00on, you know, feeling the responsibility feeling so many things being separated from things I loved, and family and all that kind of stuff has taken its toll and I'm still not the best version of myself. And I don't know what that's going to take to kind of get back to that.

GL: During this, during the past two and a half years, so have you seen a change on our students coming through your offices virtually? In person?

AM: Yeah, yeah, um, I think that the newer students are very unsure. I mean, they got robbed of their high school experience, and got robbed of the, you know, I don't care about the book learning. But they got robbed of the developmental learning. I mean, I hear that from so many K 12 educators, and I was even reading an article a few weeks ago, about how early intervention for six months to two years is on the rise everywhere, because babies weren't 00:31:00getting socialization with other kids, right? I don't think that we're all going to realize the effect that this is going to have on this generation. Um, and so I see that effect with our students, and I'll tell you, I was part of a group conversation that USP sponsored a few weeks ago, there's all these articles come out in the Chronicle about how disengaged students are. And I intensely dislike that, that conversation. Because one, if we're gonna say, our students are disengaged, I gotta tell you, faculty and staff are disengaged. But I wouldn't use that language, I would just say they're coping with trauma, like they're scared, you know, they don't know what's going on. They didn't get two years of development. You know, I started this pandemic when I was 42 and now, I'm 44. My developments fine, right? Like not a whole lot develops in your 40s. But my kids 00:32:00went from eight to 10. That's a lot. Those two years are much more meaningful to them. 16 to 18 is much more meaningful. And so I disliked some of the negative language that sometimes gets used. It's traumatic, and students are genuinely trying to do the best they can.

GL: You said that certain cases went down during the pandemic, did certain cases go up?

AM: Just the COVID cases, I mean, just the mask violation, not complying with testing. And then we had to make the decision of what to do with students who tested positive, but then did not isolate. And we made the decision to suspend. So any student that we caught, and some did, they just continue going to class, then continue doing whatever. And they were shocked that we suspended them, but 00:33:00really felt like we needed to.

GL: When you say suspend, what does that mean?

AM: Means you are removed from school for the year. And you can't attend any other UW System school. And the classes you're in are either withdrawn or failed.

GL: How many students? Do you remember?

AM: I mean, under 20? Over the two years, but I mean, there was, I remember looking at some use cases. I can remember nursing students, like you're a nursing student, and you still went to class. So.

GL: Did the mental health cases go up?

AM: Yes. Yeah. I mean, the cases coming to the counseling center went up. Just the anxiety and depression, everywhere did. The suicide ideation did, you know while I can't imply causality, I can say I've been here six years. Prior to the pandemic, we had zero students die by suicide and during the pandemic, we had 00:34:00two, and you can't say that didn't have an effect.

GL: Here on campus?

AM: They didn't occur on, the deaths did not occur on campus. But near.

GL: Oh geez, okay. Knowing what you know now, um, was there anything in your response to COVID as an employee here at UW Oshkosh, would you have changed?

AM: Um, I mean, I don't know if I would change anything. At the moment we made decisions, we made decisions with the best information that we had available. Had we had better information available such as if the federal government had kicked off that HERF funding a little bit earlier, we maybe wouldn't have had to do those furloughs. Right, but they didn't kick that in until like fall started after it already happened. And I remember employees lamenting about that like, 00:35:00it was all this money is coming in now. But we didn't know, we didn't know it was gonna come in like it wasn't factored into the decision. So I mean, there's not anything I would go back and change per se, I'm sure there's messaging, we could have improved, I'm sure there's ways we could have supported people better or more. But I can honestly say that we did the best we could at the time with what we had.

GL: You mentioned about the students, you know, sort of stayed stagnant, and maybe you know, those are not your words, but about their development during those two lost years. Did you have any interactions with the faculty and instructional staff regarding student grades?

AM: Yeah, yeah, I found the faculty became incredibly flexible. I've always said, and I could talk about this as being a change now. So I've been dean of students at three institutions, this is my third. This is the easiest group of 00:36:00faculty I've ever worked with. They, there's outliers everywhere, but by and large, people are really easy going here wanting to go the extra mile for students and be flexible, that increased during the pandemic. It has shrunk to less than what it was before the pandemic now, because I think faculty are exhausted. The idea of giving more flexibility now is almost something that's, I don't know if want to use the word triggering, but it almost feels triggering to faculty. And I can tell you, that's frustrating sometimes, I get it, but I still have to be flexible with students to like we all do. This is life. And I've had to do more advocacy for students this past year, than any time before here.

GL: If I could play devil's advocate on this,

AM: Sure


GL: at some point, we need to have some sort of accountability.

AM: Absolutely.

GL: And, and I would say that the flexibility I, I understand, but at some point, we're going to send these students on to the so-called real world where they need to be accountable for project deadlines.

AM: One hundred percent.

GL: Etcetera etcetera

AM: And I never advocated for there, for there not to be that accountability. I'm talking about basic humanity. And I'm talking about basic things such as this student has COVID and cannot come to your class, saying and I remember saying this during norovirus, when I had a couple of faculty members get upset about students being excused. I'm like, I just said to them probably way too sarcastically and flippantly, but I said, okay, I will send them to your class and tell them to sit in the front row. Right? I mean, that's what you're asking for. These students aren't making this up, and the flexibility they're getting 00:38:00is far less than the flexibility I get, and I'm in the real world, right? I have a real-world job. I'm getting way more flexibility than these students. And I would say to the faculty members, you're getting more flexibility than these students. I'm not saying don't hold them accountable, but I'm talking about the difference between you say, three absences, after three absences, you go down a letter grade, and the student just had their fourth because they had COVID. Like is that really just, like if they're missing 10 days, I'm not advocating for them. I'm talking about much finer points than that, where I think you can breathe a little bit, and not sacrifice the educational nature of your course.

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

AM: That, that I mean, I can work more flexibly? You know, I mean, being dean of 00:39:00students is a 24-hour job anyway. So there's, you know, an aspect of that, that's always been the case, but, you know, I function very well at home. That I need, I've always done a pretty good job of taking care of myself, but I need to, but I needed to make that much more pronounced. As far as you know, finding ways to work out I mean, the one of the most difficult things for me, in the early on was not having access to a gym. I was going to local parks and doing pull ups and like, you know, doing push up challenges with friends of mine doing YouTube workout videos, it wasn't the same, but I was trying to hold it together. That, I learned that, you know, I'm resilient. I am able to manage a lot and keep a lot of things a lot of different plates spinning and not totally lose myself. And, you know, we kind of referenced it before this interview. but 00:40:00I hadn't. I'm a musician. And I hadn't written a song in 20 years. And I started writing my own music again for the first time, and that really took off and I recorded my own stuff and released my own stuff now, and I don't think I would have done that we're not for the pandemic.

GL: Just for the record, what do you, what kind of music and what do you play?

AM: Yeah, I play guitar. I'll say I sing. I mean, sound comes out of my face, I don't know how well I sing. But I played guitar for 30 years, I actually started college as a music major. And but I'm a I'm a rock guy to my heart. You know, I got a guitar because I wanted to be slash from Guns and Roses, and I play in an 80s cover band. And so I have a very strong blues influence in my music. That's how I learned how to play guitar. And so I Love Rock stuff, love acoustic stuff, 00:41:00things like that.

GL: If you don't mind, we'll just I'll just, I'm gonna ask you a couple questions regarding your family life.

AM: Sure.

GL: During the early days, you went home?

AM: Yeah.

GL: Who was at home with you?

AM: Sure. My wife, Heidi and I have twins, Vincent and Ava.

GL: And were you following the CDC guidelines there?

AM: Yeah

GL: I mean, how strictly did you follow the protocols?

AM: Ah, for the most part, we had another family that we hung out with, that we you know, it's kind of our social connection. But we didn't visit my family in Chicago, you know, we didn't have any of those connections.

GL: And how were you all doing emotionally during that time?

AM: Not well, not well. You know, my, my partner and I both manage anxiety, we've always, both of us have always been in and out of counseling our whole 00:42:00lives. And so the toll on that was hard. And then, you know, with the kids, I mean, gosh, I mean, they were like, seven, trying to explain this to them in a way that made sense, managing learning at home and stuff like that. And then once we got to fall 2020, my kids' school was in person the whole year, with masks and pretty significant mitigation strategies. And they did a phenomenal job, was woodland Elementary in the Kimberley School District, they did a phenomenal job. We made the decision, we always had the kids in separate classes, you know, to have different experiences. And we made the decision to put them in the same class because we figured that would limit exposure you know. They did not like that. They like being apart because they're together so much. But I get to hang out with them a lot. That was fun. I can remember a big 00:43:00part of the summer of 2020 being fun. It was beautiful weather, it was a beautiful summer, outside a lot. So there was parts of that that I enjoyed. But I could tell you, I always, you know, a little bit because of my job felt like under the microscope. I can tell you once we went to some state park, I think it's up near Door County, it's like caves something or other. It's within an hour or so I live in Appleton within an hour or so. So we went there to hang out as a family and just hiked around, looked at the cave, stuff like that. And then I posted on social media that we went there, and I had somebody write on my social media wall that they couldn't believe that with my leadership position at the institution that I was violating guidelines and going out and doing stuff and like we were outdoors, like I didn't like go to a restaurant I wasn't in a bar. But I was really taken aback by that and frustrated and reminded how under 00:44:00the microscope and you know, I am sometimes.

GL: What does your wife do?

AM: She's a school librarian, the Kaukauna school district at a K 12, a K 5 school.

GL: And did you get COVID or anybody in your family?

AM: Yeah, so I got COVID twice. The first time I got it in January 21. Yeah January 21. I was doing the, I was working on campus every so often then, so I was doing the surveillance testing on campus. And went and just did my normal Monday morning test like I always did, got a call and they're like you came up positive. I'm like, nah, I'm not positive. And they're like maybe it's a false positive and went and did three more tests, not a false positive. I had COVID, I've joked around about this, that I'm a COVID super soldier and that I've had 00:45:00COVID twice. I've had both vaccines and a booster. And I've never felt a thing. I never had a symptom, I never got an effect from the booster, never even hurt my arm. So I've joked around that I'm just impervious to COVID. But that first time I got it, I kept it secret, because I felt that it would be embarrassing or shameful, there was like shame associated with it then that you got COVID. I stayed in the basement for 10 days, no one else in my family got it. But being separated from people for that long was really emotionally difficult. My wife had a big emotional reaction to me having COVID and having to manage the whole family by herself for 10 days. The insurrection at the Capitol happened during that time. And so watching a riot, and the attempted overthrow of our government, from my basement was just creepy. So yeah, so that time was 00:46:00shameful. Almost a year to the day. My wife got sick, and she took a COVID test, she came up positive, and then I took me and the kids to go get, we took an at home test with me and the kids and we were negative. And then I went to go get a PCR test just to make sure. And ding! Came up positive. So all of us had COVID at the same time, Heidi, my wife, had minor symptoms, kids had minor symptoms, once again, you know, I had nothing, I would never have known.

GL: So we're talking about this past January, February?

AM: Yeah, just this past January. So I had it.

GL: And anything, anybody outside of your immediate family that that you know, that got really sick, or?

AM: Nobody got really sick, I've had people in my family get it, nobody die. I mean, people get sick, but run of the mill.


GL: We touched on a ton of things today, is there anything else you would like to add?

AM: Um, no, I just, I was impressed by our community, I was impressed by our leadership. We really rallied. And one thing that I hope higher education takes from this as a learning is that I would challenge to say higher ed, very often is not a very nimble enterprise. Change happens very slowly. Now, in some ways, I appreciate that because there should be some, you know, stature to higher education that we shouldn't change just on the whims of what's happening in the moment. But there are some things that change 10-15 years too late, right, like, it's just, you know, we don't adapt markets real well, we don't adapt to what the workforce needs real well and so many things. You know, I look back on this, 00:48:00you know, our telehealth and our telecounseling, we should have been doing that 10 years ago, right? We flipped our university online in a week. We can be nimble and not lose who we are. And so I hope we take that as a learning that we can change, but still remain true to the core of what higher education should be.

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