FGCU president says students could end up suspended for breaking COVID rules

Pamela McCabe Fort Myers News-PressPublished 4:52 PM EDT Sep 15, 2020Florida Gulf Coast University is seeing f

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Florida Gulf Coast University is seeing fewer reported COVID-19 cases on campus than other state universities, and it wants to keep it that way.

Mike Martin, the president of the Fort Myers school, said he just filmed his 10th video update related to the coronavirus. In it, he urged students to fall in line with the new health and safety protocols that are meant to keep the virus from spreading.

Those who refuse to do things like wear face masks, avoid crowds and practice distancing efforts could end up suspended — and not just from club life on campus.

“For those who are not prepared to accept the realities of the time we live in, I don't believe they are mature enough to be university students,” Martin said.

In case you missed it: FGCU suspends two fraternities for reportedly ditching COVID rules during large, off-campus parties

His comments came during a Tuesday morning board of trustees meeting, where the university leader was asked to present a COVID update to the group. The meeting was a call-in format, keeping with the school’s stance of avoiding large crowds of people.

COVID-19 rule-breakers could end up suspended for the rest of the academic year, Martin said. This is a serious setback for a student because leaders throughout the State University System agree that a suspension from one school is a suspension “from all 12," he said.

Following the first week of classes, the Sigma Chi and Phi Delta Theta fraternities were suspended and cut off from their normal activities after hosting large parties without following the new safety guidelines for students. Now, in its fourth week of fall classes, the university is hearing reports that more people are “stepping out of line over the weekends,” Martin said.

“The vast majority of students and staff and faculty have been nothing but cooperative and committed to one another, but for those who choose not to accept that responsibility, we have a responsibility to act firmly,” Martin said.

As part of the school’s reopening this fall, the campus embraced a campaign to teach employees, students and visitors what’s expected of them when they are on campus, from basic hygiene practices and physical distancing to face masks. 

The focus is self-responsibility. 

James MacDonald, a geology professor and a trustee on the call, said his students have been patient and respectful of others while in his classroom.

“My students have been wonderful,” MacDonald said. “They come to class. They all have masks. They socially distance. They take the little wipes, they clean their area at the beginning of class, they clean their area at the end of class.”

He added: “To think that other students might ruin it would greatly anger these students in my class.”

When Martin announced the fraternity suspensions in a campus memo on Aug. 24, he wrote that the students put the university at risk of closing down and pivoting once more to full virtual instruction. 

The board’s student representative, Jacob Goldman, said he believes the vast majority of students are “taking this very seriously,” but there are some students who are “taking this, sadly, as a joke.”

While running an on-campus event Monday evening, Goldman spotted “numerous kids walking around with no mask, no mask in hand, nothing, as if it didn’t even exist."

“We definitely have a mix of students, but I do believe that the majority of the students are taking this very seriously and are almost peer-pressuring other into taking it seriously, so I'm hopeful that the majority will be able to overcome the minority,” he said.

Since April, FGCU has reported 50 COVID cases. Nine were employees; the rest of the cases were students.

Of them:

  • 23 live off campus
  • 5 live in the West Lake Village dorm
  • 4 live in the North Lake Village dorm
  • 9 live in South Lake Village dorm

Fourteen cases were reported in the past week.

“While we have had a little bubble of late, by and large, we've dodged any big bullets in terms of a surge,” Martin said. “We're hoping that holds up. We're hoping what little we've seen of late may be a bit of a fallout from Labor Day.”

It also helps that there are fewer students on campus.

Due to COVID, FGCU reduced the number of in-person courses and shifted more classes online. Martin said about 26% of the school’s classes are being offered face-to-face, 52% online and about 22% are part of a blended model where students will attend on-campus and remote sessions.

Of the estimated 15,000 students registered for fall classes, he said:

  • 7% are doing all their coursework in-person
  • 29% are logging in for all virtual coursework
  • 64% are doing a blend of the two

“Assuming we can hold up from a health standpoint and a COVID-19 standpoint, I believe we'll stick largely to this format in the second semester unless there's some rather radical change in the circumstances we face,” Martin said.

Keeping with the trend set this past spring and summer, universities across the state are likely to hold off on in-person graduations again this semester, Martin said. FGCU’s event, planned in December, will likely be a virtual event.

“No one can quite believe that we'll be able to assemble thousands of people in one space and carry on a traditional commencement in December,” Martin said. “There'll be disappointment in that, there'll be some protesting of that, but I think that's going to be a system-wide decision and I don't think we'll run counter to that.”

Provost search continues

In other news, the university is moving forward with its search for a new provost, or chief academic officer.

Five finalists were selected for interviews prior to the COVID shutdowns this spring, and all have agreed to continue with the process this fall. Each finalist is scheduled for two days of interviews, starting Sept. 21 and running through Oct. 9.

The finalists and their scheduled interviews are:

  • Alan Shoho from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee — Sept. 21-22
  • Paul Atchley from the University of South Florida — Sept. 24-25
  • Mark Rieger from the University of Delaware — Sept. 28-29
  • William Crawley from the University of West Florida — Oct. 1-2
  • Robert Fischer Jr. from Middle Tennessee State University — Oct. 8-9

Jim Llorens has been serving as the provost for more than two years.

More of our coverage: FGCU has added COVID-19 screening for students, faculty and staff. Here's how it works

And: As students move onto campus, FGCU offers a look at fall semester during pandemic

More: FGCU announces top applicants for academic chief, plans March video interviews

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