Anne Skleder

Brenau University President Skleder discusses school’s navigation of pandemic on WABE NPR Atlanta

Mar 3, 2021
Kathryne Davis
Listen to Dr. Skleder on WABE’s Closer Look
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Rose Scott 0:01 Closer Look continues now here on 90.1. Web. This is always Atlanta’s choice for NPR. And I’m always row Scott. As we know, 2020 presented a lot of challenges to colleges, universities across the country. We know that Why? Well, they’re all faced with how the pandemic was impacting higher education. And joining me now to talk about how they have dealt with all this from Brenau University. Dr. Anne Skleder, president of the university presidents greater thanks for taking the time. I appreciate it.

Anne A. Skleder 0:31 Oh, Rose, I’m delighted to be here. Thank you for having me.

Rose Scott 0:34 Let’s begin with the age old question. Bree-now, Breh-now, because everybody I talked to pronounces it differently.

Anne A. Skleder 0:42 Yes, it is Breh-now, all right, there we go. Now that we got that out, if I can tell you it’s two words. It’s the German word for wood. And they end in gold. So it’s called refined by fire. So that’s why it’s Brenau, but you got it perfectly.

Rose Scott 1:00 well, I’ve been practicing all week in trust me. Let’s just begin here and get your thoughts cuz tomorrow marks one full year since the first Coronavirus cases were confirmed here in Georgia. And you know, then folks are starting to talk about, hey, we got to get tested. What do you make of all this? This last year?

Anne A. Skleder 1:20 It has been a year like no other. And I’m not the first person to say that, of course, I think what it did for us at Brenau, is showed that we are in fact, forged in fire and able to continue to be, for 144 years, tested by challenges from the external environment. So this isn’t the first and it won’t be the last. But I’m super proud of how our community has come, is continuing to come through. We are not over yet. It is not over yet.

Anne A. Skleder 2:04 Rose, what I’m really proud about is we are doing all of the above. And because we have about 25 years of experience in online, we’re able to we were able to pivot. But many classes are partially in-person partially Zoom partially online. And it’s all dependent upon the preference and comfort level of the student and comfort level of the faculty member. And it’s just seems to be working in this way.

Rose Scott 2:31 But here’s what’s interesting, also, Madam President, because also you’re in a community, you’re in the Gainesville community, which as we both know, this is an area of Georgia that was hit hard by the virus. So did that play a decision at all in your decision making about whether or not to you know, allow all the students and faculty staff to come back to campus?

Anne A. Skleder 2:53 Right. Well, actually Rose, we didn’t allow everyone to come back to campus. So we’re at about 30% of staff and faculty actually physically on one of our campuses, the downtown or the, or the East or the or the, or the historic campus. Our students are a mixture. And you know, one of the things we learn because our we have a high proportion, we’re a minority serving institution, high proportion of first generation, low income is that for some students being on campus was the best place to be. Because it’s hard to take classes at home, when you have a lot of people perhaps at your home, you don’t have stable Wi-Fi. And it may be that being on campus is what you need to do. So we really tried to meet the needs of students and the needs of of our faculty and staff. So we are nowhere near 100% capacity. We’re about 50% in our residence halls, so that we have plenty of room to spread out. Should we have a case, and nobody is on top of each other.

Rose Scott 3:55 You mentioned that since you all have been offering online courses a this was, the shift for you wasn’t as I guess traumatic or you know, didn’t the challenges wasn’t like it was for some other colleges and universities. But did you get any pressure? Did you feel any pressure from either students or the community to to either go one way or the other because of where you are located in Gainesville?

Anne A. Skleder 4:19 That’s a great point. Actually, there were preferences on both sides. We had faculty who, who absolutely did not want to go online because they wanted their students to be with them in class and we had others who had risk factors of their own, family members, and they really could not feel comfortable being in a classroom. We have a lot of health care professions. It’s very difficult to teach nursing online, the hands-on part of it or physician assistant or physical therapy, all of which we have occupational therapy. So they have been super creative, as all of our faculty have, at figuring out what can we do? What must we do face-to-face? What can we do online? Telehealth, tele-mental-health is been fantastic for those fields, psychology, etc.

Rose Scott 5:11 We know that the pandemic has had a tremendous financial toll on many colleges and universities. How would you describe the financial health of Brenau right now? How have you been able to withstand this financially?

Anne A. Skleder 5:25 Yeah, well, Brenau is a fortunately went into the pandemic as a very strong, financially strong institution, we have a lot of different types of students. So when we knew we were going to have to have fewer students on campus, because for safety reasons for our culture of prevention, we knew that we had online students in programs already that would, that would generally stay in those programs. So we fortunately have a lot of different students segments to help us but it’s a challenge every day was I’m not gonna, I’m not gonna lie to you it is we’re looking constantly for ways to continue to educate, continue to have that culture of prevention, continue to continue operations, and find ways to save everywhere we can, in some ways, we’re saving because we’re not going on trips, we’re not going on conferences, we’re not hosting events. You know, that’s sad that we’re not doing that. But that does help balance the score a little bit. But we were able to make it through last year in the black. And we’re hoping that, you know, we’re planning for this year to be the same.

Rose Scott 6:31 Here’s a line and everyone I have a conversation with, particularly with presidents of universities, colleges, and they say, “you know what I’m going to” and even right down to superintendents, “we’re going to follow the science, we’re going to follow the science.” I imagine you all are following the science. But science has been changing. We have to be fair about that throughout this last year.

Anne A. Skleder 6:49 It has and the way I like to think about it is the science isn’t changing, our understanding of the science is changing. So we’re getting smarter. And I don’t know about you, but I feel like I should get some kind of epidemiology graduate degree because a colleague of mine said, I’m a college president in the daytime and an epidemiologist at night. So we are following it. We call it our culture of prevention. So we started out, day one mask 100%, we started out day one distanced 100%, we started out with hand washing and then Hall County did a new thing called “Hall In,” which is all three of those W’s plus the flu shot. So we we’ve just been pushing that and pushing that. And frankly, we just had a discussion, do we need to talk about two masks, and came to the conclusion that we really want to talk about one snugly fitting mask. So we really are following, and fortunately, we have fabulous faculty and staff in the health care area in our COVID task force that are meeting weekly and studying this daily.

Rose Scott 7:53 Have folks been… has there been testing available on campus throughout all of this?

Anne A. Skleder 8:00 We are very fortunate, Rose, that we have a business in our business incubator that does testing. And so from the very beginning, we were able to, almost the very beginning, we were able to do testing that comes back in about 24 hours. And we do strategic testing, and we do random testing.

Rose Scott 8:18 So you’ve had

Anne A. Skleder 8:18 And that’s been a godsend.

Rose Scott 8:20 You’ve had no isolated outbreaks that you know of.

Anne A. Skleder 8:24 We have had cases, yes.

Rose Scott 8:26 You’ve had cases, but…

Anne A. Skleder 8:27 Oh, yeah, yeah. But what happens is, we have, we have housed, for example, all the athletes in with each other. So if there’s a tennis outbreak, then five tennis players are isolated together, and they’re not affecting the rest of the campus. So there’s been a strategy in our COVID Task Force around all of those kinds of things. But yes, we of course, have had faculty, staff and students with COVID.

Rose Scott 8:53 As the vaccine rollout now includes another provider with Johnson & Johnson, there are concerns that people might get a little lax and sort of, you know, let up their guard here. What concerns do you have?

Anne A. Skleder 9:07 Well, I will tell you that I do a weekly video, we figured out that, my colleagues figured out that I’ve done about 100 of these. So I do a video every week, I did them almost every day at the beginning, and I end with the three W’s the flu and now I’m doing a “don’t let up.” We can’t let up we didn’t work this hard for an entire year to let our guard down now, and you know, the fact that you get a vaccine does not mean you can’t carry it to someone else. And so we’re trying to emphasize that and I, I have seen such compliance on our, on our campuses, that I am hoping that this does not change as the vaccine as we have more and more vaccinated people on our campuses.

Rose Scott 9:49 Let’s talk about when you are hopeful that you all can return to some on-campus activities, or you look we know what the big ones coming up right graduation? You got to feel for so many of the students, college, high school what have you, kindergarten who couldn’t graduate, in front of, in front of mom and dad and Big Mama. But um, our optimists agree that at some point, you all will be able to have some, some event where you can half folks there.

Anne A. Skleder 10:16 We will have some event, in fact, our provost is finalizing with his faculty group, a series of celebrations of graduation, they will be mass, they will be distanced, they will be limited in terms of how many of those relatives can come, but it’ll be live streamed. And we will, we will do that this spring. And then we will also have the whole series of end of semester events that we will just do differently as we’ve been doing other things differently. And we’re hoping that this is the last one of those big events, situations where we have to drastically change the way we do it.

Rose Scott 10:50 Let’s talk about you, as we end this conversation, your leadership style, and I’ve said this so many times, I know there is nothing in the, in the handbook about how to deal with a pandemic on a college campus. I don’t care what anybody says.

Anne A. Skleder 11:02 I looked in the index.

Rose Scott 11:00 There’s got to be one now. But how do you how would you assess your leadership and all of this, and well, there are times where you just simply you were you were at a crossroads and you needed to, to check in with other folks? How did you?

Anne A. Skleder 11:16 Rose, that’s such a great question. I would say we check, I checked in with my colleagues daily, and definitely weekly, we would sit down, we still sit down, we’ll be sending out tomorrow morning at nine o’clock and going through all of the updates and all of the decisions we need to make. We even talk about the decisions we’re not yet making and when we’re going to make them, presumably. So I, my leadership has is 100% getting the group together and getting the wisdom of the people in that room, virtually, at every turn because none of us were trained for this. None of us were trained for this.

Rose Scott 11:54 Has this also, I imagine, impacted whatever strategic plan that you had for the future for this institution. By the way, you’re the first woman to be the president?

Anne A. Skleder – 12:02 I am. I’m proud of that fact. And I hope, I hope it’s a it’s a good thing for our students to see a woman, considering we’re still 75% women at the university. So…

Rose Scott – 12:15 Yes.

Anne A. Skleder – 12:17 The strategic plan is is alive and well. In fact, it’s one of our many accomplishments of the year that I’m really proud of. We’ve moved we’re moving forward, we’re looking at mission vision. And our major strategies we I mean, we just elevated our psychology school, the Darby school. We’re moving into the Renaissance building, the Gainesville Renaissance downtown we launched a physician assistant program in January. And I was elbow bumping with everybody over there because I was so excited. So we’re continuing to achieve. Our diversity equity and inclusive excellence process moves on and marches on. I just met with those folks the other day. So, you know, we have we have kind of a motto that we’re going to continue business. We’re open for business, Brenau is open for business, open for education. It’s just we’re doing it in a different way.

Rose Scott – 13:09 And we should know, too, that last year, amid all the protests and calls for racial justice and social justice, you were out there with some of the students.

Anne A. Skleder – 13:18 The students invited me on their walk to the square and allowed me to give some remarks and I was happy to talk about our Brenau Ideal, which says that we hate never and, and we and we fear nothing, and we love and that is what I talked about.

Rose Scott – 13:36 Dr. Anne Skleder is president of Brenau University. Dr. Skleder Thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. We got to have you come back as, as we continue to check in with universities and colleges. So…

Anne A. Skleder – 13:48 I would love to come back. Your show is great, and I appreciate being on it.

Rose Scott – 13:52 Thank you for that. I appreciate it. Take care now.

Anne A. Skleder – 13:54 Take care. Bye bye.

Rose Scott – 13:58 And that’s it for this edition of closer look, which is produced by Grace Walker and LaShawn Hudson engineers Kevin Rinker, if you missed any of today’s program, it’s online and of course, Closer Look weeknights at 8 p.m. as well as in our podcasts. So subscribe to Closer Look wherever you like. Stay tuned to 90.1 WABE Atlanta’s choice for NPR. I’m Ross Scott.

End of transcript

Brenau University President Anne Skleder made an appearance on National Public Radio’s Atlanta affiliate WABE’s Closer Look with Rose Scott on Monday, March 1, to share how Brenau University leadership, faculty, staff and students have adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been a year like no other,” Skleder said. “I think what this year did for us at Brenau is showed that we are in fact, forged in fire and able to continue to be over 140 years tested by challenges from the external environment. So this isn’t the first challenge, and it won’t be the last. But I’m super proud of how our community is continuing to come through. It is not over yet.”

Skleder credited Brenau faculty’s over two decades of experience in online learning as one of the ways the university was able to transition on-ground students to remote learning seamlessly. Brenau has a strong online presence and was able to continue the success with online students while giving residential students the option to stay home and learn virtually.

She also explained how Brenau has handled safety protocols and on-campus housing. Skleder said the residence halls are at about 50%, meaning that students are able to stay a safe distance away from others. Athletes are also housed together since they are around each other often, making it easier to quarantine them, should there be a positive case.

Skleder mentioned that many programs at Brenau in the health care field are unable to work virtually, such as nursing, physical therapy and the new physician assistant studies program. The students in those programs take extra precautions, such as wearing face shields, sanitizing more frequently and keeping extra distance away from others.

While many colleges and universities have suffered financially during the pandemic, Brenau has figured out how to navigate through.

“We went into the pandemic very strong financially,” Skleder said, “but it’s a challenge every day. We’re looking constantly for ways to continue to educate, continue to have a culture of prevention, continue operations and find ways to save money everywhere we can. Fortunately, we have a lot of different student segments to help us,” she said.

Despite these challenges, Brenau is still moving forward. In January, the university’s physician assistant studies program started after years of planning. This followed the signing of a deal with Panama in November for students to study at the Gainesville campus. In addition, Brenau’s psychology department was elevated to become the Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling, which will be housed in Gainesville Renaissance, currently being built.

“Brenau is open for business and open for education,” Skleder said. “It’s just that we’re doing it in a different way.”

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