Interview with John Koker, 01/07/2022

UW Oshkosh Campus Stories
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´╗┐GL: Okay, this is Grace Lim interviewing John Koker on Friday, January 7 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?

JK: John Koker, J OHN K O K ER

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

JK: My name is John Koker. I am the Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at UW Oshkosh.

GL: Before we dive into your campus COVID story we'd like to get to know you a little better. Tell us about where you grew up.

JK: I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was born in 1962. And my parents were blue collar workers. My father worked in the factory at American Motors and my mother 00:01:00was the cook at Kenosha County Jail and went through 12 years of Catholic schooling through elementary through high school. And it was a good childhood. Lots of lots of fun and family camping vacations, and then left to go off to college. I was the first one in my family to go on to college, the youngest of four kids, but the first one to go on to college. My sister went to college later in her life and became a middle school science teacher. But at that time, she didn't decide to go into school.

GL: Where did you earn your degree or degrees?

JK: I did my undergraduate degree in mathematics at St. Norbert College. And then from there, I went on to Purdue University and was there for two years and did a master's degree in mathematics. And then I went from there to the 00:02:00University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and did my PhD in mathematics there. So I was in school from 1980 till 1990 10 years through a bachelor's, master's and PhD. I remember my dad asking me in the late 80s, how much math is there and when will I finished school

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

JK: After I after I was when I was graduated with my PhD in 1990. I applied to a number of positions at schools in the Midwest and in the East mostly, and I actually got a job at State University of New York Potsdam College way up north in in Potsdam, New York, only about 20 miles from the Canadian border. And it was a great place to work. They had a wonderful undergraduate math program at that time, Crane School of Music. It was a wonderful liberal arts college in a 00:03:00small town in northern New York. But all of our family, my wife's family, and my family were all back in this area. And so while we liked it there, I sent applications back to Wisconsin schools in this place called UW Oshkosh was, was hiring a math professor. So I applied for the job and I got an interview and came here and they offered me the job and went back to Potsdam and talked to my wife and said, you know, we like it here. But this is a chance to get back close to our family. And it's a great institution. Good department. And so should we make the move? And we did, and that was back in 1991. And now here 31 years later, I'm still here at UW Oshkosh.

GL: And how long have you been the provost here?

JK: I became interim provost in August 1 of 2017. And then following a national 00:04:00search, I was named Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs in October of 2018. So I'm in the fifth year in the office,

GL: okay, so pre-COVID What was your What was your job as provost?

JK: Well, it's been an exciting time as provost, because when I went into the office, we had some interesting times with our foundation and our litigation that we were going through with the foundation, which caused some issues with our HLC accreditation. So we were put on notice early in my career and we had a visit, for accreditation visit that was postponed a year. We had a successful visit in the spring of 2018. So we put that behind it. But so we had the 00:05:00foundation litigation, we had our HLC issues. Shortly after I became provost. We hired a new vice chancellor for actually about the same time I became Provost, we hired the new Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration, who noticed or told us that we were spending $9.5 million a year more than we were bringing in revenue. And this came on the heels of a $7.5 million spending reduction through then Governor Walker's budget reductions. So we had some very serious financial problems early in my Provost time, which we I think have put behind us now work together to solve those. And then on the heels of that, there was the system decision to make, to dissolve the institution of the UW colleges. And so we we gained UW then UW Fox Valley and UW Fond du Lac, and merged to become UW Oshkosh 00:06:00one university three campuses. So we had two years of working very diligently to have a smooth transition and consolidation. And then after that, we had COVID. So it's been a it's been, not what I thought I signed up for four and a half, five years ago. But I think, if nothing else, UW Oshkosh has learned to become resilient, and we face our problems. And we usually come out on the good end of that.

GL: For those who do not know what the provost does, I mean, how do you explain what, who you're Who are you in charge of, what are you in charge of?

JK: Well, essentially my role, I have two roles. So one role is that I'm the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. And so the university structure is broken 00:07:00down into four divisions, a University Affairs, Finance and Administration, Student Affairs, and then Academic Affairs. And so in my role as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, I oversee the entire Division of Academic Affairs, which includes all the academic colleges, the library advising the Grants Office, the academic support for inclusive excellence, I know I'm forgetting some but so everything that really is pointed towards the academic part of the university, which offers our degrees and our academic programs. So the deans, the academic Deans report to me, in the end, all the other directors of those offices are report to me. So it's my job to oversee the entire Division of Academic Affairs. But then it's my role as provost. It's really more like the, the CEO of a corporation, where I need to make sure that the entire university is working 00:08:00together to achieve the academic mission or basic mission of the university. So in some sense, there's four Vice Chancellors that are, in some sense on the on the on the corporate organizational chart equals, but then you have the Provost who is probably first among those equals, so I work very closely with the chancellor to make sure that his university vision is implemented across the entire university, I stand in for the chancellor when he's not available. Sometimes our Chancellor likes to refer to the provost as the internal chancellor of the university. And while the chancellor is certainly concerned with the internal workings of the university, he's also the external face to the legislature to the community, to the UW system, to our donors to our alumni. And 00:09:00so there's really the two roles there. And the way the way that the state statutes work is that the chancellor can choose one individual among his senior administrative staff to act in the role as provost. It's not a job that you hire separately, just as Provost you name someone among your senior leadership team as the Provost of the University, more often than not at universities across the country. It's the Vice Chancellor, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, that also serves in the role as provost, but not always but at the UW system. It's unanimous all the provost are also their Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. So hopefully that's helpful.

GL: Yeah, I had no idea that the provost was not attached to a specific person. Yeah, like the Vice Chancellor of the academic affairs. I thought that was one 00:10:00and the same.

JK: Yeah. in it. By default it almost is. But it does not have to be.

GL: Okay. Well, that's something I learned today. All right, let's move to the early days of COVID. Do you remember the first time you actually heard about this? COVID-19?

JK: I actually do. I remember thinking that in January, February, you know, then when there was talks about this, this Coronavirus, and how could it affect our day to day lives here in Wisconsin and more broadly, in the US and across the world? The first, the first thought I had is, when I was dean, I think back in, I think it was 2009. But I'm not sure I'd have to look, there was the concern about the h1 and one virus. And we all had to have a plan in place. In case we 00:11:00had to close the university. And so I, I did find some old documents that I put in place with department chairs about what we would do if we had to, you know, shut down the university. And it never happened. And so my first my first thought was when we heard this Corona 19 virus, that oh, the same thing will happen. You know, we'll make these plans and then it'll be fine. And, and we won't really change what we do. But so that was kind of my first reaction. But then I specifically remember one of the last places I was in person face to face, I was at research at the rotunda, which is a undergraduate student collaborative research event where students can present their posters and their research in the capitol in Madison, and all the provost. So they're in the Chancellor's are there and this was right about early March of 2020. And I 00:12:00remember the conversation with all my Provost colleagues, and it was, are you closing? I don't know, are you going to cancel class? I don't know. What are you going to do? I don't know, what are we going to do? If we have to cancel class? Have you made any decisions, I haven't made any decisions. And so it was just this sort of very, very concerned, almost, you know, filled with questioning that without any answers. And then it was shortly after that, were one after another, the UW System decided two campuses, were going to close, essentially a move, move virtually. So that's the day it really became real for me when I was with all my Provost colleagues in Madison. And that was the last time that I saw many of them face to face for 18 months, almost

GL: Correct me if I'm wrong, that during the early days, it was not a system decision to close all the campuses, it was individual, right?

JK: It was an individual decision. And, and one by one, universities made their 00:13:00decision, we were heading into a spring break. And so we canceled classes for a week. And then we had the spring break. And then when we came back, so we canceled the seventh week of the semester, and then we had spring break, and then we were geared to come back the week after spring break would have been over. So that was the decision we made. So essentially, we gave faculty and staff a two-week warning, if you will to say be prepared to go live. The following Monday after spring break would have ended with virtual classes.

GL: Walk me through that decision to send people home?

JK: Well, I think it was it was unknown, there was there was there was not only 00:14:00universities, but at that time there were there were mandates in across the state of Wisconsin and the county departments of health in the state of Wisconsin were closing non-essential services. They were closing restaurants and department stores and in other non-essential services. And so, in some sense, we were falling in line with what was happening across the across the state of Wisconsin and across the country. And you know, we were again, we didn't really understand the extent of the virus how sick people were going to get I know people were saying, you know, it's just like the flu. Are we doing the right thing? Nobody has died from COVID. Why are we reacting this way? I remember discussions like that. But obviously in retrospect that was the right thing to 00:15:00do, because I think it really helped control the spread of the virus, because certainly troubles for our students and our faculty and our staff, financial and otherwise for the university. But I think it was, in retrospect, it was the right thing to do.

GL: So what's your like a situation room at the university,

JK: There was I mean, the cabinet met, the cabinet met. Frequently, again, I would say the Situation Room was, was more of the emergency operation committee led by Chief Leibold. That was, in my opinion, the Situation Room. And those experts brought their recommendations to the chancellor, to me and to other members of the Cabinet, we made the final decisions. But we really let the people who are experts that were involved, do their work. In fact, I think one of the brilliant things that we did at UW Oshkosh was create this emergency 00:16:00operations committee that was led by Chief Leibold and others from risk management, and experts from across the campus. One of the things that I engaged in was weekly meetings with Provost that UW system. And at those meetings, we shared ideas, what we were doing, and I was thankful at the time that some Provost on their campus were actually put in charge of their COVID response for their campus. And I was thinking, why would you want someone like me, who has no experience in emergency response, leading a large institutions, response to this situation. And so to have our situation room, as you called it to be, the people who are experienced in emergency response and crisis management, make recommendations to university leadership was the right way to go. So that I certainly take responsibility for decision making, based on their 00:17:00recommendation. But the other thing that it allowed me to do was really to concentrate and lead, how we are going to maintain quality instruction, which is more something that I'm familiar with. And so I was able to really focus on trying to make sure that the deans, our chairs, our faculty, our students, have the support that they needed to offer instruction in this new way.

GL: When you got when that decision was finally made that yes, we are going to close down that y'all shut down. Just cancel week seven of the semester. What did you tell, I mean, describe what happened to your department. What did you What were the conversations what had to be done?

JK: Well, again, the probably the big thing was, how are we going to do it? How are we going to be able to offer these classes online, I put together a team, 00:18:00Jordan Landry, Charlie Hill, I know I'm missing some names. But a team that work to put together a continuation of instruction page, and Brian Ledwell, others, Sarah Bradway, from CETL. We put together certainly people from UMC in it, and we put together a I think we called it a continuation of instruction website. And we've tried to put together all the resources that we could in a very short time, that's that seventh cancelled weekend over spring break, and so that we could put together online, quick, tutorials, instructions, having people become 00:19:00more familiar with Canvas if they weren't using the digital learning platform that we had. So we scrambled, and we put together a very comprehensive crash course, if you will, for instructors to help them move their classes online in a very, very, very short time. And the work that that team did, was amazing. And we had things up and running. I remember having a conversation with one faculty member shortly after when we started. And he said to me, the day that he was going to use Canvas was the day that hell was going to freeze over. And he said well, you know, this past couple of weeks hell has frozen over. And not only did I learned to use Canvas in a very short time, I realized what I was missing in ways that I could have could have reached students before if I would have not been resistance to using our uh digital learning system to enhance in-person 00:20:00courses. So there was a lot of people who stepped forward in academic affairs to help prepare people to teach from home. And to make sure we could serve students.

GL: What were some of the feedback from, from faculty and students about this?

JK: I think it was, I didn't sign up for this. This is not what I what I want to do. This is not what I can do. I think it was, again, fear of the unknown. But again, where I tried to insert myself was to say, this is the this is the hand that we're dealt right now. And we have to do the best that we can. I think one of the things that I remember specifically as I know that everyone was anxious as we launched back to this version of virtual, and I don't know how I had this 00:21:00idea, but I had an idea of that. I mentioned early on, and in our talk that my mom was the cook at the Kenosha County Jail, and she was a wonderful cook. And she taught me how to cook. But the way she cooked was very recipe free, if you will. And even if she had a recipe, she always changed, and if she didn't have ingredients, and she made, she made things her own, and she just figured out how to make things work. But she used to tell me that she hated the bake, because when you bake, you have to be very precise and perfect. And she didn't like cooking that way. And so I remember writing this email to faculty, as we were going to begin teaching in the say, we have to cook, we can't bake, we can't eat things perfect. We don't have time. So um, and I think that really resonated with faculty, and put them a little bit at ease to say that, you know, we're in 00:22:00this really weird situation that none of us have ever been in before, and how can we cook and adjust the recipe and still have something good to eat or good to send as we as we work through that. And I think I hope it helped, I get a lot of positive responses from that. And just to know that, you know, I was sitting in this room here when I wrote it. And just to know that we're going to support you, and it's gonna be tough times. And it's going to be things we don't know how to do. And we're going to be missing ingredients. We're going to say, I wish I had this and that the other thing, but we don't, and we're just going to have to do the best we can.


Will you also when we said non-essential what we deemed as non-essential to the running of the university, the people home, were you among that group?


JK: Well, I don't know if I've ever considered myself essential. But yeah, I worked from home. I, I moved in I I wasn't didn't like it. But remember, we had a Cabinet meeting. I think that that Tuesday of the week that we closed that seventh week, and that we were in a very large room and reunion, and we were all spread out. I can't remember if we were wearing masks yet or not, I don't think we were. And but that was sort of the last time that we remember I remember seeing my fellow Cabinet members and the Chancellor face to face. And there was some talk that certainly the not that we're any more special. But we don't want the senior administrators to get sick. And so they needed to lead. And so it was 00:24:00determined that we could do our jobs from home. And so the senior administrators work from home. So really, the people who worked on on campus were the people that needed to be there to keep the physical plant running. We had animal colonies on campus, and certainly animals need to be fed and cared for. So we each division, and a went through and said what people can do their work from home and what people really need to be on campus. And there was a very, very few people on campus in those early days of COVID. Unfortunately, we sent all of our students home and which caused the number of people to have to be put on furlough because there wasn't there wasn't just work for them to do and so unfortunately a lot of people in the early days also not only some people had to continue to do their work and they can do it from home. Some people had to 00:25:00continue their work and they had to do it on campus. But there was a lot of people where their work essentially was no longer needed just because we didn't have students on campus eating and sleeping, and living. And so those work, that work did not need to happen. And so unfortunately, some people were put on the temporary furloughs.

GL: How many? Do you have an idea how many, you know what percentage of our employees were furloughed? That way?

JK: I don't have the percentage. I know in academic affairs, it was probably smaller. We did have people on continuous for a little over that summer, just because we were pretty in academic affairs. We, you know, we since we didn't have anybody on campus. But for the rest of the year, the percentage of academic affairs was pretty small, I think it was, you know, the, the harder hit area 00:26:00where student affairs and certainly Finance and Administration are custodians are ground keepers. There was a higher percentage, so I don't have the exact percentage. But we all did intermittent furloughs because of the financial burden that this cause. So all of us, across the campus, did intermittent furloughs, which for someone to in like a faculty member, it really turns out to be a reduction in pay not a reduction in the work. So everyone did their part with intermittent furloughs one day, every 10 days. But we did have a large number of employees that were essentially not working from the middle of May of 2020, probably through the end of the summer. And then we brought people back from continuous furloughs in in August, I believe.

GL: How much money did that save? But you know,

JK: I don't know exactly how much money that saved. I don't have the numbers in front of me. But certainly the intermittent furloughs and the and the continuous 00:27:00furloughs did save a significant amount of money for the university. We also offset a lot of lost revenue, because at that time, too, we gave refunds to all the students for meal plans and room and board when we sent them home back in March of 2020. So in some sense, it offset the expenses. So the revenue that we that we lost.

GL: So what, what would you say are your three biggest challenges during your regarding your work from March 2020? to December of 2021?

JK: I think the certainly the would the top of that list was the initial flip. I mean, how do we how do we go from normal, you know, face to face classes. And 00:28:00then two weeks later, we're completely virtual. So the first big challenge was certainly that flip? And how can we get through the rest of the semester? How can we make it through the last seven weeks of the semester, and that just make it through but also deliver students a quality educational experience and in the students who are going to graduate still graduate, the students who want to make some progress towards their, their graduation? So that was, that was the number one challenge. Probably the number two challenge them was to say, what's it going to be like in the fall? I mean, I remember discussion saying, This is good, we're going to be closed for two weeks, we're going to be closed for a month. You know, we'll all be back soon, you know, by June or July, everything will be fine. But then, it didn't take too long into after March 2020, when we realized that this was going to last much longer, then than we originally had 00:29:00hoped. And so then really the next challenge was how do we prepare for this fall? What is it going to look like? What is the fall of 2020 going to look like? And so we set up a number of professional development workshops over the summer to help people prepare, we did try to put some classes face to face with social distancing and masks in classrooms. But certainly every class that had more than 50 students in it was going to have to be virtual. And so I think at that time, we probably had about 30% of our courses remained face to face and everything else went virtual. And so really the prepare for that year was the second challenge and we had probably more than 200 faculty and staff participate 00:30:00in, in workshops over the summer to help prepare them for teaching in this this this new way, don't hold me that number 200. But I think it was somewhere between 150 and 200. We actually invested some money to pay stipends to people who weren't under contract to help them participate in these professional development workshops to design their classes in a new way for the fall of 2020. And also, there was an anonymous donor that gave money to the UW system. And we were able to get some of those funds here at UW Oshkosh to help support that. So that helped. That helped a lot as well. So system actually provided some support, and developed, there was some system wide programs that they developed. But then again, our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and our other folks really stepped up and in and then put together some programs. So then, and 00:31:00then really just the challenge of making that happen during the academic year that the fall in the spring, where were strange times, and there was I remember, my office, again, looks over the academic quad. And I started going back to my office in the fall of 2020. And there was nobody there looking out over that. And so I think the third challenge was how do we maintain community? At the university, when no one is physically there, very few people are physically there. There were like I said, some people teaching face to face and some students were living on campus and doing online courses or face to face, but the place was pretty bare for that academic year. So I think the third challenge would have been, how do we still maintain some sense of community, even though 00:32:00people aren't physically there?

GL: So you came back in person in the fall of 2020?

JK: Yeah, yes, I think in the, so I worked at home pretty much the entire spring and summer of 2020. And then as the academic year began, and we were going to try to offer some face to face classes, I felt it was important for me to be there more often. I can't say I came in five days a week during the fall, but at least two to three days a week I worked from my office, in the fall, I walked around classroom buildings and wave to people who were in a face to face classes and let them know that we were supporting them. And I'd walk into a classroom and there would be, you know, maybe four people actually physically in the room. But there was everybody else was on the screen who was taking the class. So we 00:33:00really asked faculty that year to develop multiple versions of their course. And we gave students that choice. That fall, whether they wanted to if they were enrolled in a face to face class, they could request a virtual option. So faculty had to keep their foot in both worlds. They had some students who were in class with them. And then they had some students who were participating in a virtual way. And so I thought it was important for me to be on campus. And it was probably the first of the year and 2021, where I started coming in every day.

GL: What kind of feedback were you getting from faculty and students about the new way of learning and teaching?

JK: Well, frustration was certainly was certainly present frustration around, you know, having to do this in a different new way. I guess what I was where I 00:34:00think that frustration came from, is what we tried to move away from as, as we learned to live a little bit better with COVID was what we wanted to try to get away from was taking a class that's designed to be face to face and making it virtual. That's different than designing a true online class. And so what we tried to do as we moved into, to the spring semester of the academic 2021 academic year, was to say that courses that were designed to be face to face were going to be face to face and students had to be there face to face. But we tried to increase the number of of online courses which were truly designed online courses to be online courses. So students could take those or faculty could teach those as well. So I think I think the biggest frustration was to take a course and teach it in the way that it was isn't intended to be taught. I 00:35:00also think the frustration of students wanting that in class experience and thinking they were getting something less. And I'm not sure that they were getting something less, I think they were getting something different or different than they expected. And so I think the frustration of faculty being asked to do things in multiple ways, and students worried that they weren't getting what they signed up for what they paid for.

GL: The did you have to deal with parents at all during this time?

JK: Yes, our Division of Student Affairs dealt with parents, I think, probably more than I did. But I did do my fair share of dealing with, with parents, I think, again, one of the things that UWO did very proactively, as we started having open town halls for students and parents, we would do them via Teams, or 00:36:00Zoom, and in, and then parents had a chance to ask questions and certainly vent their frustrations. And through those open forums, I always shared my email address and my contact information. And it was, it's much easier to deal with a specific student issue or parent issue one on one than in a big forum. So I encouraged you know, at those when they would get questions about a specific class or a specific situation, instead of addressing it at the forum, specifically, I would certainly address things generally, I would encourage those parents to contact me. So I had several parents follow up after those open forums. And more often than not, we were able to solve the issue to solve the problem. But again, it was just I think, I think parents and students through those forums, understood that, you know, we do care about them. And we do, we 00:37:00are trying to provide the best experience, we can offer students in this very difficult situation. And we're learning as we go, I don't think I ever use the phrase, like a fly in the ship while we're building it, or flying the plane while we're building it more often than then during COVID. Because it really was, it really was true. The

GL: Were there any challenges, you know that you had some people were teaching remotely? And working remotely? Were there any challenges in getting them to come back on campus? Or is that going to be a permanent? You know?

JK: Yeah, yes, there was as we as we, especially as we move into the summer of 2021, we really wanted to, you know, we everyone was talking about this normal fall, I think we're gonna get back to normal in 2021. And we had, we did have some resistance of people, after working from home for over a year, coming back, 00:38:00and people saying that they're more productive when they work from home, they were getting more things done, then, you know, I, I was trying to certainly be sensitive to tele-commuting that an offering that option, but at the same time, the mission of UW Oshkosh, part of our mission, a big part of our mission is that we're a very strong residential undergraduate campus. And if we were going to have, you know, 6,000, 8000 students on campus, you know, 3,500 in our residence halls and another 3,000, living within a couple blocks of the university, we needed to be able to serve those students. So we needed people on campus. And we needed offices to be open, we needed services to be there, in 00:39:00person. And so we worked through that, again, the team of Vice Chancellors work through and came up with some policies and some procedures to be flexible to allow people to work from home if they could, but also to maintain a strong physical campus presence on campus. And so I think we made a good transition back to face to face campus in the fall, but then, you know, Delta variant hit and we had to respond again. So it was a little bit ebb and flowing. And now we're in a strange situation. Once again, here we every time we think this is this is over, it doesn't seem to quite be over.

GL: So the university was in some sort of in financial, dire straits prior to COVID and you adjusted with the furloughs and Some other some other things that 00:40:00you've had to do. How are we financially? During this time of COVID?

JK: Actually we're, we're right now, we're actually doing pretty well. For the first time that I can remember certainly my first time as provost, as we went into this current academic year, we had no additional budget reductions for any of our units across campus. So essentially, the fiscal 21 budget rolled into the fiscal 22 budget, and with no additional reductions, and I can't ever remember that happening. Certainly, as my years of provost that haven't happened. And even my years coming into this, as Dean, we had several reductions. And now as we are currently planning for fiscal 23, for our next budget year, this will be the second year in a row that we're not asking for any additional, any additional reductions. So certainly the sacrifices people made as far as furloughs and some of the retirements we had, in previous budget reductions of help. Certainly our one time, federal money through the Cares Act, has certainly 00:41:00helped the university as it has helped institutions across the country. So that has certainly put us in a good situation. But I think that again, the fiscal management that was taken place during this has put us in a in a pretty good situation. So that's one of the places where I remain quite optimistic as we come out of the pandemic, not only can we propel ourselves forward with our academic mission and our strategic planning that's going on, but also we're in a pretty good financial position to do that. So I'm really looking forward to the years to come, I think, where we really need to put our energy now as we come on a COVID is enrollment, right, by enrollment, I mean, both admissions and new students, as well as increase our retention, and really work on student success. So I hope, a big part of our strategic planning and our work ahead is on 00:42:00retention and student success.

GL: Has COVID affected the enrollment numbers?

JK: I don't have specific data to say that it has. But I think it has I think some students were hesitant to, to, to come to the to go on to college after they graduated from high school and this this strange new world. But I think where else it has affected enrollment is through retention. I do think we had students who struggled this past fall semester, especially our new students who had a very, very strange last year of high school. And I think there was a lot of I don't have the we don't have the numbers yet from fall to spring. In, you know, retention, but because our spring doesn't start for a few more weeks 00:43:00yet. But I'm worried that we might have some retention problems there. And so I think, you know, when we reflect on this, I always think that old people like me say, I want to get back to normal, I wanted to be the way it was because I had, you know, 28 years at UW Oshkosh, that was normal. And I know what that's like. We can't say that about our 18,19 year old first year freshmen. Getting back to normal for them, was not possible because they were entering something completely different. They didn't know what it was like to be they don't know what it's like to be first year college students because they've never done it before. And I think it made it even more difficult for them to enter into a new experience as college freshmen coming out of such a strange year, they didn't 00:44:00have time for that, that transition that we that we could normally create for people. So I think when you think about anybody probably under the age of 25, getting back to normal is not a phrase you can use for those people because every year and those that time of your life is different. Every year from one year to next is so different as you as you go through your childhood adolescence and early adulthood. It's like I said it's people like me that have done the same thing for 30 years who can say I wish it was the way it was three years ago but an 18 year old doesn't say I wish it was the way it was three years ago.

GL: Sure. The, you know, speaking of the first year students and going to college, did you have to have any conversation with the faculty to try to get them to be more I don't want to say lax or lenient, but understanding about


JK: Someone told me that I did ask them to be more lenient and less rigorous and lower their standards. I never I don't think I ever said that. But somebody told me I did. What we did try to do is try to say, how can we provide? How can we try to understand where students are coming from, and maybe be able to adjust to become more understanding, more flexible? So I think so like I said, in the summer of 2020, we had extensive workshops on how do you teach online? How do you flip and become good at what you're doing virtually. In the summer of 2021. We worked on. Again, this was led by Jordan Landry and Damira Grady and Aggie Hanni and Charlie Hill were my team that I put in place, we put together a 00:46:00series of professional development experience on enhanced student support. And so how can we try to understand the experiences that especially our first and second year students have been through, and how can we provide enhanced students support? And again, last summer, we was a stipend program, I think we had about 140 people participate, and went through a series of workshops in summer of 2021. And there was some follow up in the fall of 2021. To say not to become more relaxed or less rigorous in your in your academic courses. But how can we understand that students may come in with not the same preparation based on their last year of high school, and the situations that the high schools had to deal with? And but also emotionally and other ways that we could help and respond to students? So I was very pleased with the with the number of faculty 00:47:00and instructors that participated in our summer 2021 workshops.

GL: Um, you mentioned about the, you know, all the classes had to flip in the I mean, this is early on conversation, how many classes? How many classes? Would you say that? We've had to do that? You know, this whole university? I may have, you know? 1000s?

JK: 1000s Yeah, sure. I mean, we probably have, you know, we have over 300, faculty, just faculty, and they're all teaching three or four classes a semester. And then we have a very strong instructional academic staff. So, you know, we literally are offering, I don't have the number in front of me, but we literally offer, you know, 1000s of classes and other experiences per semester.


GL: What do you see as the future of the hybrid and online teaching? Do you think this is going to continue on? Or are we going to go back? If everything's on, you know, in person, we're going to go back to the in person? Or are we going to incorporate some of that hybrid?

JK: You know, I think, where I see this as an opportunity, as I mentioned earlier, I always see I see UW Oshkosh as a strong residential in person face to face institution. And I hope that never goes away. So I hope we still have a very strong, you know, residential face to face program. But I think what is available to us is the opportunity that some of our faculty and staff have discovered that there are effective ways to teach online. So I think there's an opportunity for us to increase the online programs that we have, and in engage 00:49:00faculty and staff who want to teach in those programs. So we can offer some of our programs to people, perhaps, who need a little bit more flexibility. One of the things that is connected here is, you know, before COVID, and even doing COVID, the job market is so good. And you can get a job anywhere you want pretty much right now, unskilled labor for 20 $25 an hour. And eventually I think those students are going to want to come back to school, but I don't think we're going to have a 25 year old who's going to want to move into Scott Hall. They're probably going to want to do stuff in a flexible online way and how can we be prepared that once someone does work a few years and in a position that is not as fulfilling as they thought it was when they start because there's no advancement and they want to they want something different they want to come back to school We're going to have to be able to offer them something that's a 00:50:00little bit more flexible. The other thing that we're not really good at right now is we have three campuses, and how do we offer courses? So our students can take courses on any of our three campuses. And so whether it's point to point or distance learning or an online version, so how can we bring opportunities on each of our three campuses, to students who are on another campus? And so I think, hopefully, we'll take what we learned about doing things virtually or online, and be able to enhance those and reach more people who can't physically come to one of our three campuses.

GL: Has COVID changed the way you do your job?

JK: Yes. You know, my first experience with doing virtual meetings via teams and, and so forth, zoom, was actually through the consolidation of when we were 00:51:00gaining the two campuses from the with the dissolution of the UW colleges. And so I put together as we as we were working through all the academic affairs issues of gaining two new campuses and combining into one institution, I put together a steering committee of a leadership group in academic affairs. And we had people from Fox Cities campus and Fond du Lac campus in Oshkosh campus, and nobody wanted to drive, we have weekly meetings and nobody wanted to drive. So this person at the, at the Fox Cities campus that I know how to set up a Skype meeting. And so we use Skype for Business. And we met once a week. And we laughed that, you know, this was kind of this was working. And now this has become the norm of the last couple years. And so I think I spend more time in my office alone, sitting in front of the computer. And so that's something that I 00:52:00hope to, you know, still do for efficiency sake, there's certainly a lot of meetings that can happen via teams or zoom. But I still miss, I still want to be able to interact with people, personally. So there's a lot that we learn that we can do virtually brother, it's even, you know, paperwork, we've been moving a lot of paperwork and personnel, things and other actions electronically. And I think that has been so I think, again, the necessity was we weren't there to shuffle things in person. So we had to figure out ways to do them online, I think a lot of those things will stay because they're just more efficient.

GL: Can you point to something so you're really proud of, you know, from your response to your team's response to these crazy times.


JK: I think probably the thing that I'm most proud of is, and it happened every at the end of every semester through COVID, we still had a very, very successful commencement. And to me, that shows that we were still graduating students. So we were still, we were still, we didn't, I'm sure some people's graduation, were delayed individuals. But as an institution, we still accomplished our mission to graduate students and send them off to their next chapter of life. And so even in 2020, you know, we had a virtual commencement in 2021, December, I'm sorry, December of 20- May of 2020. We had a virtual commencement, December of 20. We did it live on live TV, there was a few of us there. So it was there was 00:54:00broadcast through Titan TV. And then we went back to person in commencements, in May of 2021, and then in person and in December of 2021. But just the fact that we had students celebrating and graduating and excited that we kept this machine going and we graduated students.

GL: What do you think you yourself, have learned about? Well about yourself during this time of COVID one, why have you learned about yourself?

JK: Well, I guess one of the things I've learned about myself is, you know, I like things the same and, you know, I like I like I'm not a very spontaneous person. I like things that are predictable. I like things that are planned. And, and that was all thrown out the window. So I think one of the things that I did 00:55:00learn about myself is that I can react more quickly and I can deal with change, and I can deal with the unexpected. And it so I think, not only with my job, but in my personal life if things don't work out the way that I had planned or I had hoped, it's not all it's lost, I don't have to just go mope. I can adjust and say, yeah, it didn't work out the way I thought, but we have to change the way we do things, and we can still be successful. So I think that's, I think I'd become better at dealing with the with the unexpected.

GL: Okay. Is there anything else you would like to add that we haven't touched on?

JK: I just think that that, the other thing I really learned is that the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has an amazing group of faculty and staff, all 00:56:00from the, you know, the leadership again, of the EOC, to our, to our chancellor and our Cabinet and the Deans and the faculty and in the staff, throughout the entire university. And I know it sounds cliche, but you know, going through this crisis, going through this pandemic, with such a dedicated group of people, is has been pleasurable in some sense, it's been hard work, but, you know, people have really stepped up. And we have our share of problems. We have, you know, low morale, and we have concerns, but for the most part, people were able to set those things beside and do the work that they had to do. And so that's why I hope that we can really move forward and come through this troubled times in a very positive, futuristic looking way to take UW Oshkosh into the next the next 00:57:00decade. So just think it's, um, it's my pleasure to be able to work with this group of people.

GL: We are coming up to the spring semester, what, what, what are your thoughts now? I mean, are you are we looking at?

JK: Well, I think we're looking at the, you know, trying to maintain what we did last fall where to get back to as much normal as we can. We I think we caught a break right now with the with the way we are calendar is and the way the income variant has hit our area, that we're lucky that we don't start until October, October, January 31. January 31, is the first day of the spring semester. And at least what I of course, nobody knows, but at least a lot of what I read and what I look at right now as we could be on the downward trend of infections by the 00:58:00time we start our spring semester. So I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully this tough time, this next couple of weeks will be the worst will be behind us and will. Of course I've said this before, but hopefully this coming spring, again, I know there's other places that have started this week or starting next week, and they're in a little bit more tough times. And we are so I'm hoping that by January 31. We'll be able to move forward in a quasi-normal way.

GL: Thank you for sharing your stories with us. We appreciate your contributions to campus cover stories at UW Oshkosh.

JK: Thank you Grace. It's my pleasure. Thanks.